Just as they have done since 1991, Australia have overwhelmed India in a Test match at the MCG. Except this time they weren't widely expected to do so.
Before this Test - which didn't even last four days - Australia appeared to be in disorder. They were without four first-choice players, the three senior batsmen in the line-up were under pressure, their top order had the collective experience of five Tests (one opener was yet to debut), and they were coming off their first Test defeat to New Zealand at home in 26 years. Their fast bowling comprised a 21-year-old with two Tests to his name, a 28-year-old who hadn't played for almost a year and in Peter Siddle a bowler whose recent successes included having outscored the captain Michael Clarke in four of his past seven innings.
That same Australia defied the odds and won the Boxing Day Test convincingly. Ed Cowan, the debutant, top-scored in the first innings and held three catches on the final day. Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey, under fire their poor form, stitched together a match-winning partnership of 115 after Australia had been reduced to 27 for 4 in the second innings. Hussey's 89, following a first ball duck (replays indicated he didn't touch the ball), was the highest score of the match and Ponting's twin fifties amounted to 122 runs – the margin of defeat. And that mix-and-match pace trio accounted for 19 of the 20 Indian wickets that fell in 142 overs.
All this added to a terrific, morale-boosting Test victory that should give the hosts a tremendous amount of confidence going into the New Year. The alliance between Ponting and Hussey on day three can be singled out as the turning point from an Australian perspective, but this win would not have been possible without the three fast bowlers. They were outstanding.
Ben Hilfenhaus, James Pattinson and Siddle responded superbly to the challenge of bowling to India's star-studded battling line-up and gave nothing away. Crucially, they consistently produced wicket-taking deliveries. Pattinson was the deserved Man of the Match, having taken seven wickets and scored handy unbeaten runs in both innings. The 21-year-old turned in a fine bowling performance out of an inner fire that great fast bowlers have, and that bodes tremendously for the future of a side facing further transition in 2012.
Coming into the final day, Australia were marginal favorites but there was a suspicion was that they would pay for their top-order collapse the day before. Instead, the final pair infused 42 runs in 58 deliveries to revive the team. Pattinson's unbeaten 37 and Hilfenhaus' 14 helped Australia add 74 for the last two wickets, and therein lay the story of Australia's desire. When you consider that in the first innings Siddle's 41 with the bat helped Australia from 214 to 6 to 291 for 8, and that he, Pattinson and Hilfenhaus contributed 78 runs (23 per cent) of Australia's total, you get a sense of how hungry the team was.
The same trio came out and made the most of a pitch that continued to assist pace and seam by taking wickets at regular intervals to keep the Indians under extreme pressure. As he had done on the third morning – when his maiden five-wicket haul helped garner a 51-run lead - Hilfenhaus hammered away at the back of a good length or well short, but not much in between. He used the full delivery sparingly, and when he did it surprised Virat Kohli who was rapped on the pads first ball. In a 13-over spell, Hilfenhaus had crippled India yet again.
Pattinson enhanced his reputation with another robust outing, threatening the outside edge and adhering to an excellent line. Rahul Dravid was forced to play time and again and Pattinson' s working up of VVS Laxman was to a plan. Having consistently pitched the ball outside off stump and moving it away, he angled one into Laxman who flicked uppishly to a perfectly placed square leg. It was just another example of how well a plan works, even against the best batsmen in the world.
And then there was Siddle, always attacking the stumps. The ball to get Gautam Gambhir on day four was sharp and well-directed, and by bowling the way Sachin Tendulkar wanted him to Siddle picked up the biggest wicket. It wasn't as big as Siddle’s dismissal of Tendulkar on the stroke of stumps on day three – another turning point – but it was as intimidating a message as could be delivered.
Australia really needed their quick men to deliver in a big way, and that's precisely what they did. In fact, this was just the 20th time in Australia's history that fast bowlers had taken 19 wickets in a home Test. That says something.
A year ago Australia lost a rare Boxing Day Test. Today, they stormed back when the chips were down. They deserved to win this Test not just for their bowling performance but for their approach and belief. They came into this match in disarray, and left it with a feeling of conviction.