Two tests began on the 16th of December, 2010: One at Perth, the other at Centurion.
The similarities were striking: Both pitches were expected to have something for the speed demons.
And they did.
For Australia, after being shot out for 268 on the first day, it looked like deja vu. The Englishmen were on top and were pressing for an unprecedented third Ashes triumph, in the process, signalling their willingness to end the Punter’s reign at the helm.
For India, Day 1 was a nightmare: The rain washed out the first session and the second and third sessions dashed any expectations that this team would bely their critics’ claim of being poor starters.
At stumps, India were staring down the barrel, 136–9—the same old story all over again.
The Englishmen were coasting along on the second day when lightning struck in the form of Mitchell Johnson; the omission from the second Test obviously hurt and Johnson knew just whom to target.
An innings haul of 6-38, with Ryan Harris chipping in with 3-58, and the Poms were blown away for a lowly 187.
For India, there was not to be any such turnaround in fortunes.
The absence of lead bowler Zaheer Khan was sorely felt. The South Africans ground the placid bowling attack into the ground on a pitch that suddenly turned docile. Harbhajan Singh toiled for his two victims, but Day 2 was the Proteas’: 366-2.
For Hussey, this series has been a homecoming of sorts: For a man whose place in the side was threatened by his recent indifferent form overseas, the support from the home crowd rejuvenated his soul. A big knock from Mr. Cricket, ably assisted by Shane Watson, saw the Aussies set their rivals a daunting 391 to win. Johnson started the slide once more with two quick wickets.
The day’s play ended with the visitors 81-5.
For India, Day 3 saw no end to their misery.
Ishant Sharma did bag a couple of wickets, but it was a day for records. Jacques Kallis, ever underestimated, compiled his first ever double century. His 201 not out was the bedrock of the South African innings.
Graeme Smith declared the innings closed at a mammoth 620-4.
The Indians started off well: Sehwag and Gambhir played positively to score 137 in 29.3 overs, but Sehwag lost his head and his wicket in an act of hara-kiri, swinging Harris straight into the hands of a crouching, poaching Smith.
Gambhir followed soon after when a ball from Steyn kept low and rapped him plumb in front of the wicket. The sending in of Ishant Sharma was a sign that the Indians had given up hope. It was just a matter of playing out time.
The third day ended with Indian 190-2.
The fourth day’s play was over in a blink at the WACA. The Poms caved in for an abysmal 123. Ryan Harris was the destroyer-in-chief, claiming 6-47. Mitchell Johnson returned to claim the man-of-the-match award.
For India, four quick wickets in the first session meant that there was no way the South Africans would loosen their stranglehold on the match. Tendulkar and Dhoni postponed the inevitable with a rollicking partnership but as all entertainment goes, it had to end.
Tendulkar completed his 50 of tons and Dhoni succumbed to a snorter from Dale Steyn. Harbhajan followed and so did the rain.
The final day dawned only for the Proteas to wrap up the last two wickets. India failed to avoid the ignominy of an innings defeat but barely.
A tale of two Tests; one about the resurgent Baggy Greens fighting to regain lost pride and the other of a side complacent until pushed against the wall.
The Ashes stand 1-1. The Indians trail 0-1.
Over to Melbourne and Durban for Boxing Day.
Quote of the day:
The man who writes about himself and his own time is the only man who writes about all people and all time. – George Bernard Shaw