Ishant Sharma fluffed a straightforward return catch off a Ricky Ponting drive. Peter Siddle, first ball bowled in this Test, plucked a superb one-handed return catch to his right after Virender Sehwag miscued a low-dipping full toss. It summed up just how important it is to make your own luck in cricket.
Throughout this series, India have failed to seize the small moments that add up to a whole and so often make the difference between victory and defeat. The failure of the batting line-up has been their biggest problem on tour, followed by the inability of the bowlers to strike consistently, but undeniable over four Test matches has been an inability to seize the moment. Time and again, India have been found wanting with poor field positions, the absence of a necessary catcher, wayward bowling and slow reactions.
Sample the second ball of the second over of the day, bowled by Ishant. With an off-side field, including three slips, Ishant served up a leg-stump half-volley to a batsman on 140. Michael Clarke duly clipped the pall past square leg for four. It was just one delivery, but spoke volumes of Ishant's mindset. All throughout the series India have lost the small battles and missed small tricks; in cricket every small detail counts.
Umesh Yadav, in his first over of the day, had just beaten Clarke. It could have been dismissed as Clarke having a bit of a hit-and-giggle but considering the way he had been timing everything, sneaking one past the bat could be seen as the tiniest of positives for Yadav. But he followed up that delivery with a full ball well down the pads which sped past the wicketkeeper for three leg byes. After the high of five wickets in Perth, Yadav has to nurse figures of 1 for 136 from 26 overs.
In the 101st over, with a short cover catching, Zaheer Khan bowled three balls on or outside leg stump and two on the middle and leg line. It was puzzling to watch.
In the 113th over, Ishant dropped a return catch from Ponting when he was on 186. That lapse stung India at the time, but was made to look elementary by the time Siddle plucked Sehwag's leading edge. That has been the difference between India and Australia: the ability to create luck. The time has gone for shaking heads and terming Ishant unlucky.
It got worse for India. On 215, Ponting danced out to R Ashwin and flicked to midwicket where VVS Laxman spilled the offering. It was his second drop of the match.
The frustrating part is that India's errors have mostly to do with the basics: positioning, being pro-active, backing up throws, holding catches, and improvising. Over two days in the field in Adelaide, run-scoring opportunities were too easy for the Australians. Repeatedly, throws missed the stumps when the batsmen stole risky singles. Zaheer had a good chance of running out Michael Hussey but missed with plenty of time to spare. Another small opening, but one India squandered. These small things add up.
Winning cricket is made up of simple truths that work across all forms. If the bowlers work in tandem, attacking at one end and restricting at the other, as first James Pattinson, Ben Hilfenhaus and Siddle did, and now Hilfenhaus, Siddle and Ryan Harris are doing, half the battle has been won. Back this up with accurate bowling – Australia's bowlers have hit the stumps 12 times this series – and sharp fielding and victory is within reach. A little discipline goes a long way, and today Australia were frugal: they conceded no extras in 21 overs as compared to India's 28, including 17 legbyes and eight wides. In the series, they have conceded 63 to India's 92. Consider that Australia batted just once in Sydney and Perth, and India's tardiness assumes greater texture.
India face a mountain to climb in the remainder of this Test. Victory is next to impossible, but if they aim to end the series with some respect this team will need to create their own luck.