Australia will enter the Ashes series saddled with their worst Test match losing streak for 22 years after India glided to a seven-wicket victory on the final day of the second Test at Bangalore.
Not since the first three matches of the 1988-89 home series against the West Indies have Australia lost three in a row, but they have now managed to do so again by failing to crack the Indian batting on a wearing pitch.
The result had a further Ashes implication, dropping Australia down to fifth in the ICC world rankings, behind England.
“I knew it was a long time ago. I wasn’t playing in 1988, although it feels like it,” said Australian captain Ricky Ponting when told of the record.
“We have to get off that train, for sure. We have to start winning Test matches.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how the group bounces back now.
“There are some issues there we need to deal with.
“There’s no doubt we’ve got some work to do on, one, how to bat against reverse swing bowling and two, how to deliver when we’ve got the ball in our hand.”
India maintained their comfortable hold on the No.1 ranking, a deserved accolade on the strength of a commanding fourth innings chase.
Despite the early loss of Virender Sehwag to the bowling of Ben Hilfenhaus (1-27), the Indian pursuit was both nerveless and rapid, with the young duo of Cheteshwar Pujara (72) and Murali Vijay (37) wresting control.
Sachin Tendulkar (53no to follow his first innings 214) then shepherded India to a 2-0 series win alongside Rahul Dravid (21no), who had been demoted to No. 5 in the order for Pujara.
Aside from the unstinting Hilfenhaus, Mitchell Johnson (0-42) and debutant Peter George (0-29) could not find their best, while Nathan Hauritz (1-76) was attacked mercilessly.
India’s target was kept below the 216 chased so narrowly in Mohali last week by the reverse swing of Zaheer Khan (3-41) and Sreesanth (2-48), who accounted for the final three wickets for just six runs.
Resuming at 7-202 with a lead of 185, the Australians added only a further 21 to their overnight tally as the ball swerved about treacherously.
India’s chase began with a boundary to Vijay from Hilfenhaus, and in the second over Australian hands went to heads when Mike Hussey grassed a difficult chance from Sehwag.
However the tourists have done very well to plan for Sehwag in this series, and once again he was out to a lifting delivery, this time snicking Hilfenhaus behind where Tim Paine took a sharp catch.
Surprisingly the new batsman was not longtime No.3 Dravid but Pujara, dismissed cheaply in the first innings.
Given a chance here, he was quickly into stride, punching Johnson through the covers and then launching a murderous assault on Hauritz.
His first over went for 12 runs and second for 10, as the hosts galloped to 1-73 in a mere 12 overs at the interval.
Ponting resorted to George and allrounder Shane Watson (1-20) after lunch, and had success when Vijay was lbw to the latter.
That brought Tendulkar to the crease, and he was to continue batting in the same regal manner of the first innings.
At the other end Pujara was barely troubled and it was a shock when he played down the wrong line at Hauritz and was bowled.
Dravid appeared in good touch when he walked out, and he and Tendulkar collected the final runs without any of the tension that had wracked the final moments of the epic first Test at Mohali.
Ponting’s reign forever tarnished
A second consecutive Test series loss to India leaves Ricky Ponting’s already ailing reputation as a captain in tatters.
Few will argue Ponting’s career will end with his name etched near the top of Test cricket’s all-time run-scorers list. His reputation as a batting great is assured but Australia’s memories of his captaincy will always be tarnished by significant defeats.
Australian cricket is at a crossroads in its development, stuck between the remnants of a near-invincible side from the last decade and the growing talents of a new crop.
The question must now be asked if Ricky Ponting’s captaincy is hindering the progress of what will be Australia’s next generation. The culture of losing is not something this young team should get used to.
Two humbling Ashes defeats in England followed by another loss to India have come either side of a test loss to a Pakistan team in disarray. Ponting’s last bastion of invincibility is an Ashes series at home - and even this will be put to a major test later this year.
In recent years the captaincy howlers have grown in frequency and fallout. The first major blunder would have to be bowling first after losing Glenn McGrath at Edgbaston in 2005. He has also made questionable part-time bowling choices when pursuing victory - the worst being for rolling out Mike Hussey for eight overs in Mohali against India in 2008.
His most criticised idiosyncracy, however, seems to be to bat first whenever given the opportunity regardless of conditions overhead or on the ground.
While Shane Warne and technology have never mixed his recent twittering bagging Ponting’s latest clanger was spot-on.
As India’s scoring rate ballooned past six runs an over Ponting introduced off-spinner Hauritz with the intention of stifling the flow of runs with a leg-side field. On paper a legitimate enough tactic - but for Hauritz, short on confidence and overs it was doomed to fail.
After conceding 22 runs in two overs he had to be pulled from the attack.
Ponting responded by saying this was the field Hauritz had requested but if this was the case it’s the captain’s prerogative to suggest a different tactic.
The unanswerable question is if Australia’s recent (and definite) decline is due to the turnover of players or is being assisted by some poor on-field direction.
Ponting remains one of the best batsman in the world and will finish as one of the best of all-time but it is time he continues in this regard alone.
He has much to offer the team and will be invaluable if he takes his place in the ranks such as Sachin Tendulkar has done for India - it may even lead to an extra few years of batting productivity.
The biggest hurdle to this happening would be Ricky’s pride. Australia can’t afford to lose him as a batsman at this point but any move not initiated by himself could lead to a knee-jerk retirement.
Australia missed out on being led by a great cricketing mind in Shane Warne because of a few text messages and if a few more years pass, Michael Clarke - who has shown considerable captaincy prowess - may also miss his leadership window.