Test cricket at home was a walk in the park this season for Virat Kohli's men. Any occasional challenges they faced from their English, Kiwi or Bangladeshi opponents were crushed with authority. The batsmen were scoring a mountain of runs. The spinners were picking wickets by the dozens. Even the fast bowlers were menacing whenever they were used in short bursts. The Australians were supposed to roll over given their dismal record in the subcontinent. Some experts suggested it may be pointless to even go on this tour.
Then Pune happened. Indians were outplayed and outclassed in their own game. There were question marks over the Indian batsmen's technique against spin given how they haven't been able to negotiate rank turners for a while and the supposedly clueless Australians were showing them the way.
Kohli had promised there won't be a repeat of Pune, but Day 1 at the M Chinnaswamy Stadium couldn't have been worse. After India were dismissed for 189 and Australia were sitting pretty at 40 for no loss, the Border-Gavaskar Trophy already seemed to be checked into the flight back to Melbourne.
On Day 2, Kohli's team had to dig in and stay in the contest. The Australians were prepared to grind it out and play the waiting game too. It might as well have been a staring contest where both sides tried everything, including gamesmanship, but no one was prepared to blink first. Perhaps both the teams derived inspiration from the men after whom this trophy is named. Allan Border and Sunil Gavaskar were two bloody-minded, at times abrasive individuals, who never gave an inch on the field.
In attritional warfare, there can't be just one hero. The spell by Umesh Yadav and Ishant Sharma on Day 2 didn't put India ahead but kept them in the game. Kohli wanted the Bengaluru crowd to play their part too as he constantly gestured at them to do their thing. The way Mitchell Marsh was dismissed before tea, with the crowd getting behind Ishant Sharma, might as well be recorded in scorebooks as 'bullied by the Chinnaswamy crowd'.
On Day 3, the master of attritional warfare, Ravindra Jadeja was the hero as Australia finally blinked. On a pitch where there is so much assistance for both spinners and fast bowlers, a batting collapse is almost inevitable. Australia had a handy first innings lead, but they were getting physically and emotionally drained by the rigours of their own game plan, with Kohli and the crowd getting constantly into their face making matters worse.
Australia's bowling marksmen were a bit wayward in the second innings compared to their accurate attack in the first innings and KL Rahul continued to bat on a different plain. Cheteshwar Pujara meanwhile was starting to feel at home in the grinding battle. While Australia has focussed a lot on Kohli in the build up, Pujara was the highest scorer in the series against New Zealand and second highest in the series against England. In games like these when runs aren't easy, his boring style becomes glamorous and gives him a chance to show his worth. In past two years, he has played similar innings in Colombo and Mohali on pitches where runs were hard to come by.
Just when India was starting to edge the opponents out of the battle, Australian captain Steve Smith took a blinder in slip and Nathan Lyon claimed Kohli cheaply again to swing the scales back into balance. Ajinkya Rahane is a gallant soldier for every crisis but has seemed battered and circumspect off late exposing chinks in his armour against the spinners. But in this match, he was going to repay the faith showed in him by his battle buddies. Building a patient partnership, Pujara and Rahane were now setting their team up for the victory charge.
After three draining days and the match hanging in balance, Day 4 was always going to be an emotionally charged one. India had history on their side despite a sub-200 lead. Not many opponents have conquered the fourth innings challenge in India even on the best of pitches.
Australia can't play the waiting game now on a minefield of a pitch as the one in Bengaluru. This devil of a pitch was almost a throwback to the era of tricky uncovered pitches. Some said it was getting easier to bat on, but as soon as you start thinking it is getting benign, it would spit fire on your face. On Day 4, it's common to see a few grubbers, but this match had already had more grubbers than you would expect to see in a complete season.
Once the openers were dismissed and the Tuesday crowd had found its voice, there was going to be only one winner. The final and decisive victory charge was on. Jadeja dried the visitors out giving just three runs off eight overs while his able ally Ravichandran Ashwin unleashed his bag full of tricks on the opponents who were both mentally and physically scarred now.
A lot of the post-match talk has been about the C-word and the verbal battles but that is all a sideshow. This Test match should be remembered for how both the teams gave it their all and provided a theatre for the ages. Hopefully both the sides realise how tempers can fly when they are engaged in a long battle without giving an inch. Those two commanders and brothers in arms, Smith and Kohli should sit down now in one of Bengaluru's famed pubs and sort things out.