Now for the Ashes. Australia secured the first and biggest (physically) of the two trophies they hope to bring home with them from England by wrapping up victory against India in the World Test Championship final, winning by an emphatic 209 runs after a performance that, for all the penultimate-day catch-related micro-controversy, demonstrated unarguable superiority.
India arrived for the final day in search of a miracle. To pull off what would have been a world-record run chase, or even to cling on for the draw that would have led to them sharing the trophy, they needed Virat Kohli to pull a rabbit out of the hat – and to do it extremely slowly. He lasted just half an hour.
Scott Boland looks an unlikely sporting hero. He has the build of a farmyard labourer, as if he might be as good at shifting bales of hay as he turns out to be at shifting batters. After each delivery he walks back to his mark in the manner of someone who is not at all keen on actually getting there. There is not so much a spring in his step as a winter, deep and dark and foreboding.
He bowled the first over of the day, a crowd still full of optimism cheering even the dot balls, and there were six of them. Pat Cummins took the second, as India slowly felt their way into their work. Ajinkya Rahane hit to point for a couple, Kohli running forwards for the first and jogging backwards for the second, eye always on the ball. If he wasn’t wearing spikes he would probably have been moonwalking. “Kohli, Kohli, Kohli,” they chanted.
And then they fell quiet. The decisive over started oddly, Kohli on strike, the ball beating the bat, Alex Carey collecting, nobody really appealing but Australia – urged on, it seemed, by Marnus Labuschagne at point – deciding to review anyway and finding that UltraEdge also thought it was not out.
Two balls later, however, Kohli was gone, Steve Smith taking an excellent catch at second slip, diving to his right to collect it two-handed. Never mind their batting and bowling: Smith at slip and Cameron Green at gully are spectacular assets. Two balls later Ravindra Jadeja followed, nicking through to Carey, and from there it was a matter of time.
Rahane produced a measure of resistance and a few lovely shots, including two immaculately timed straight drives in successive Mitchell Starc overs. But in Starc’s next over he too was gone, the ball kissing the edge on its way to Carey. He scored 46, three fewer than Kohli, and left India’s tail fully exposed.
Nathan Lyon did the rest, taking three of the four remaining wickets including an excellent delivery to dismiss Shardul Thakur lbw, drifting across the batter before turning back in. Soon enough Australia stood one wicket from glory and they took it twice, Mohammed Shami saved on review – the ball having clipped pocket rather than bat – before, just five balls later, Mohammed Siraj reverse-swept straight to backward point where Boland waited, the most fitting of matchwinners, to take the catch.
India went into the last day needing to score 280 across three sessions without losing all their wickets. In the end they did lose all their wickets, in just one session, while scoring only 70.
“I thought we started well, winning the toss and putting them into bat,” Rohit Sharma said. After five days’ play the problem for India was that the only time they looked in control of the game was before it actually started.