It is one thing to be sized up for an Australian cap, another to know that it fits.
IT IS one thing to be sized up for an Australian cap, another to know that it fits. As man-of-the-match-elect James Pattinson pulled his baggy green over his forehead and broke into a smile on his jog back to fine leg at the MCG yesterday afternoon, there could be no remaining doubt. In that moment, he was the image of Australia's again bullish cricket team.
In the first week of this year, Australian cricket was a humiliated entity. Since, it has submitted to three reviews and spilled every position and structure. It has played nine Test matches in three countries, beaten Sri Lanka, South Africa and now India, but also lost to New Zealand. It has made as few as 47 and as many as 488. It mounted a record run chase against South Africa, but failed in a modest one against the Kiwis. It has tried 18 players, some of whom were uncertain that the cap fitted yet, others unsure that it still did. But, oddly enough, the spinner was a constant.
Yesterday, it signed off on this most tumultuous of calendar years with a thumping victory over cricket's powerhouse, witnessed over four days by the biggest crowd for an India Test in this country. Rebuilding teams always are mercurial, but this one at least can believe that its best is good enough. Seemingly, its fresh face is re-engaging fans.
Near the end of day two, India was 2-214 in pursuit of Australia's 333. From that point, the Australian bowlers took 18-237, including all of India's highly celebrated and decorated middle order twice, to win the match. On a pitch that was availing, but no more than a Test pitch should be, Pattinson, Dandenong teammate Peter Siddle and Tasmania's Ben Hilfenhaus, salvage from last summer's Ashes wreck, formed not so much an attack as a phalanx, united and ever advancing.
Not incidentally, they also made in both innings brave runs that helped to demoralise India. Soon, the selectors must again squeeze in Pat Cummins, a pleasant conundrum. Pat and Patto might sound friendlier than Lillee and Thomson, but not to the batsmen who will face them.
Bowling coach Craig McDermott can take a bow. Since his appointment, Australia has bowled out opponents for less than 200 five times and conceded more than 400 once. His formula is simple and age-old: pitch up.
As irresistible as was Australia's bowling, so was India's batting irresolute each is a product of the other. Yesterday, only Sachin Tendulkar looked of a mind to resist meaningfully. He is 38, but ageless in this match, even the sound of his bat on ball was more formidable than any other's. While he was in, anything was possible for India, not least that hundred.
But Siddle, with the first ball of his second spell, had him caught at gully, breaking a spell. This was one of eight changes made by captain Michael Clarke that produced wickets within two overs. A busier captain than his predecessor, he also appears to have that quasi-Midas touch that successful captains need.
Otherwise, Virender Sehwag died by the sword, Rahul Dravid's legs were nearly 39 years late in moving to Pattinson - he was bowled for the third time in the match, including once by a no-ball - and as for V. V. S. Laxman, again there was not so much an appearance as a reported sighting.
India, perhaps, is facing the Australian question: at what point does faith in distinguished but ageing champions become blinding. The twist is that in this match, Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey were Australia's best batsmen.
Virat Kohli, pinned by Hilfenhaus, seemed to think that, as in beach cricket, he could not be out first ball. The theme informed the balance of the innings India hit sixes, but soon was out. It was a resigned performance. For a country that fancies itself as a world-beater, India's record away from home is lamentable. This was its fifth successive overseas Test defeat.
In this match were all the ingredients for an epic series. The pitch was prepared to a Test nicety. All the name batsmen made runs, but none made a century. The seamers were never out of it. Only the spinners were marginalised. The way the outfield was cut revived the lost art of the three, a welcome development. The MCC can take a bow.
Yesterday, there was between the teams some spite, but not nearly at the level of their last encounter here, and neither Clarke nor M. S. Dhoni is the sort of captain to aggravate it.
India's refusal to agree to third umpire referrals will remain a vexation. On day one, Australia was aggrieved. On days three and four, Australia might have been relieved as Ponting and Hussey, twice, escaped certain dismissals. Two wrongs sometimes make a right, but two rights always do, and that is always preferable.
The last action of the match, though a formality, characterised Australia's display. Umesh Yadav launched at Nathan Lyon, and Dave Warner eventually caught him at a position best described as long, long, wide, running on.
In another sport, in another season, he might have gone on to have had a bounce and a shot at the Jolimont goals. This Australian team is on the move.