Mohali, March 18: Even with an entire day’s play lost due to rain Australia could not summon up enough fight to draw the third Test at the Punjab Cricket Association stadium in Mohali. On the final day, India came out filled with belief, a belief powered neither by the state of the pitch or a confidence in their own ability to force the pace. Rather, the manner in which Australia had batted all series pointed to a good chance of an implosion, and that is exactly what happened. Set 133 to win, India knocked off the runs in 33.3 overs in a chase that went down to the wire. The six-wicket win took the series scoreline to 3-0 with one game to play in Delhi.
With only three wickets down and still trailing India by 16 runs, Australia began the final day in a less than ideal position, but with a realistic chance of saving the game. Nathan Lyon, the nightwatchman, was the first to go, feathering Pragyan Ojha to the keeper. Michael Clarke, who had recovered sufficiently from a back problem, walked out at No. 6, but even he could not resist. Ravindra Jadeja, bowling quick through the air and hitting exactly the right line and length, drew a flick from Clarke, the inside edge going to short leg via pad. Jadeja celebrated his fifth Clarke scalping in the series, and India knew then that the most difficult part of the day was behind them.
Phil Hughes, who put a horror run behind him with a crisp half-century, was the only Australian batsman on the day who had cause for complaint, adjudged lbw to R Ashwin when the ball would have almost certainly slipped past leg stump. Hughes had made 69 invaluable runs that would eventually turn out to be almost twice of what anyone else managed.
Moises Henriques offered Jadeja a sharp return catch, which was gratefully accepted with a full-length dive and Peter Siddle got a brute from Ojha that pitched on leg and spun across the face of the bat to flatten the off pole. From 89 for 3 Australia had slumped to 143 for 8, and Brad Haddin’s best attempts to collect runs and delay the inevitable were undone by a carom ball from Ashwin that nailed the batsman in front of the stumps.
Haddin (30) helped add 36 for the ninth wicket, and Starc then left the top-order red faced by barely struggling as India grew impatient. Continuing from where he left off in the first innings, Starc was resolute in defence, decisive when he attacked and perfectly comfortable picking up the ones and twos. A 44-run last-wicket partnership between Starc (35) and Xavier Doherty that consumed 109 balls showed what was possible with the right approach, but it only did enough to take Australia to 223.
The sword of Dominica hung over the Indians when they came out to bat, but a positive start ensured that there was no repeat of the 2011 West Indies Test when the chase was called off with 86 still needed from 90 balls and only three wickets down. The conditions and the state of the opposition were totally different, limiting the comparison, but the absence of Shikhar Dhawan, who injured his hand on the field on Sunday (March 17), pointed to the possibility of India resisting the temptation to go for quick runs.
In the event, no madness was required as Starc fed M Vijay a steady diet of leg-stump deliveries for him to pick off to the fence. Cheteshwar Pujara, elevated to the top of the order, stuck steadfastly to his original game, playing the ball on merit. After motoring to 26, with the score on 42, Vijay tried to force the pace, jumping down the pitch to Doherty, who got a ball to dip and turn, presenting Haddin with a simple stumping.
The fall of Vijay’s wicket did little to slow India down as Virat Kohli quickly got into his stride. Pujara, who was fortunate when Richard Kettleborough failed to detect an inside edge that was caught at slip off pad, helped himself to 28, before being trapped in front by Lyon.
When the second wicket fell, and Sachin Tendulkar walked out to the middle, India still needed 63 to win. When Kohli, who was marshalling the chase with a smouldering quiet confidence, flicked a catch to midwicket on 34, there was just a hint that India were developing late nerves. An anxious passage of play followed in which Dhoni and Tendulkar scraped together 8 runs from 24 balls, with Australia taking the chase as deep as they could.
With 17 needed from the last four overs, Tendulkar dropped the ball to his feet and charged down the pitch, only to be sent back. David Warner swooped in and underarmed the ball to the stumps, further heightening the tension in a chase that should have been routine.
With the clock winding down, Jadeja crashed two boundaries in a Siddle over, and Dhoni applied the finishing touches, cover-driving, flicking and pulling Starc for a hat-trick of boundaries that sealed the deal.