Brisbane was awash with pre-Christmas revelry on Friday night and those party folk who didn’t quite make it to the Gabba in time for the resumption next morning could have conceivably felt they hadn’t missed much.
As the late morning cloud, if not quite the personal fog began to lift and the lunch break beckoned, stragglers would have noted that the batting pair who had carried India to 1-71 and within sniffing distance of an overall lead the previous evening – Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara – were still in occupation.
But having eased into their seats and let their glazed eyes focus slowly on the ground’s large electronic scoreboards, they must have then wondered if they had slept through an entire day.
Or if it was the Gabba software rather than their own internal computational gear that was malfunctioning.
India six wickets down and not yet 50 runs in front?
With their number two and three batsmen at the crease?
That a fifth day that had promised such delicate balance and intrigue was being made redundant by Australia’s steamrolling towards their eventual four-wicket with more than a day to spare to gain a two-nil stranglehold on the Border-Gavaskar Trophy?
What was in that final round of fruit-laden cocktails? How many hours did I lose standing in that never-ending taxi queue?
It was only when Pujara lost his wicket 10 minutes before lunch and the board rolled the vision of the morning’s carnage that the picture, though most likely not the throbbing heads and bewildered minds, became a little clearer.
For the early risers, the session of dramatic twists and India’s downward turn in a match where they had established and held a deserved ascendancy for the first two days began even before the players took the field.
Dhawan, the explosive opener who had threatened but failed to ignite in Adelaide and in the first innings at Brisbane, had reportedly been struck on the right forearm while having a warm-up hit in the Gabba nets and was about to head to hospital for precautionary x-rays.
While uncertainty surrounded the nature of the injury, the extent of the damage and whether it had been inflicted by an over-enthusiastic local net bowler or a member of India’s coaching staff serving up a few gentle ‘throw downs’, the Indian team made its displeasure known.
Quick Single: India unimpressed with practice pitches
A hasty, testy statement was drafted and released claiming they had been asking for days for access to the pristine practice pitches being prepared for teams competing in upcoming KFC T20 Big Bash League matches and that Dhawan’s injury justified their concerns.
Queensland officials countered the “worn out” practice wickets did not differ greatly form the cracked, increasingly unpredictable fourth-day surface on which both team’s batsmen would encounter out in the middle, but the tourists held to their belief they had been done a disservice.
What’s worse, Virat Kohli, the batsman despatched prematurely to join Pujara in the middle when Dhawan was unable to resume had also been struck while preparing before play, which might explain why the dual century-maker from the first Test looked so out of sorts this morning.
A nervous moment when struck on the pads by Mitchell Johnson without offering a shot was replaced by dread shortly after when Kohli’s angled bat deflected the ball to his right thigh and, from there, back on to his stumps.
India’s grievance was about to give way to another of those freefalls into disaster that has come to characterise so many of their Test performances during a year that has delivered MS Dhoni’s team a solitary Test win from nine attempts.
In all but one of those – the drawn Test against New Zealand at Wellington remembered for Brendon McCullum’s triple century – India has suffered collapses in which five, six, eight or (as at The Oval in August) all 10 wickets have fallen in a clatter for the addition of less than 100 runs.
This morning’s calamity was 6-72 in fewer than 25 overs but even those confronting numbers don’t do full justice to the speed and indignity with which India hurtled towards defeat.
In keeping with the stage set by yesterday’s counter-productive baiting of Johnson that helped spark his match-altering innings, the Australian spearhead who had struggled for rhythm and impact until that moment rediscovered his menace and completed the rebuttal of his taunters.
Having skittled the stumps of Kohli, whose chirpiness in the field yesterday gave way to silent disbelief when he stood as if frozen for what seemed a minute before dragging himself from the scene, Johnson followed up with a brutal throat ball to Ajinkya Rahane in his next over.
Rahane’s instinctive parry gifted Nathan Lyon the first of two of the simplest catches any gully fielder could hope for, and then Johnson narrowed his sights on Rohit Sharma who he had identified as India’s chief provocateur from the previous afternoon.
One story circulating then suggested Sharma had greeted Johnson – who had bowled without success in India’s first innings – with a “how many wickets have you got in this match?”, or something similar.
It’s unknown if Johnson responded with “more than you’ve made runs in the second dig” after he had Sharma caught behind for a second-ball duck, but he certainly flashed him one of those smiles most famously unleashed on England’s James Anderson in Adelaide last summer.
At that point Johnson had snared 3-10 in the space of 11 balls, and when Dhoni ambled across his stumps and was immediately told he should keep walking back to the dressing room that was by now in turmoil, India had lost four specialist batsmen for a combined contribution of 11 runs.
Which meant half the team was gone with them still 10 runs in deficit.
Plans to send Dhawan to hospital were hurriedly revised and he was instead marched to the middle, where he handled the pace and bounce Johnson and Josh Hazlewood were still enjoying on the deteriorating surface with greater competence than his teammates who hadn’t been traumatised in the nets.
Despite the regular loss of wickets at the other end, Dhawan closed to within 19 runs of what would have been a remarkable rearguard century but fell to Lyon when his attempt to improvise with a lap sweep shot saw the ball miss bat and front pad, but struck his right thigh in front of middle stump.
There was a time not so far from the present when Australian nerves would have jangled at the thought of a fourth-innings target of 128.
Even more so had India been able to push it towards 200.
And pulses might have quickened further when the batsmen most likely to chase down that tally before palms had a chance to sweat up – belligerent opener David Warner and brutal No.3 Shane Watson – were both dismissed for single-figure totals inside the first 10 overs.
Of equal concern was the blow that Warner took on his left thumb, which initially raised fears he might join Mitchell Marsh (hamstring) in doubt for the Boxing Day Test that begins in Melbourne on Friday.
But those haunting memories – which became indelible with the failed pursuit of 117 against a Fanie de Villiers-inspired South Africa in Sydney in the summer of 1993-94 – harked backed to days before Steve Smith had started school.
And even though the scorecard shows Australia’s pursuit was far more fraught than they would have liked – and would have been more so had Smith not been missed by Kohli in the slips on nine – the skipper’s decisive 63-run partnership with Chris Rogers (55 from 57 balls) made sure of his perfect captaincy record to date.
It was left to the younger Marsh to hit the winning runs – a classy cover drive for four, no less – after his older brother was out for a run-a-ball 17, and Brad Haddin (one) again missed out with just six runs required.
Fittingly, it was Johnson, the man who started it all some six hours earlier, who was left unbeaten at the other end as his namesake made it two-nil heading to Melbourne for Boxing Day.