That this was in itself a notable victory for Australia, and in particular their still formative coaching team of Mickey Arthur and Craig McDermott, is undeniable. What is more difficult to gauge, with Australia one up with three to play, is whether the outcome offers a telling indication of a team in decline being passed by one on the up; or rather that the year ends with Australia's glass half-full and India's half-empty as a result of four fluctuating days in Melbourne.
Dismissing India's garlanded top five for a total of 63 in a second-innings score of 169 after having kept them below 300 in their first innings was a triumph for a pace attack cobbled together in the wake of injury to supposed betters. Ryan Harris, Mitchell Johnson and the starlet Pat Cummins were all absent. Peter Siddle and Ben Hilfenhaus had both struggled against England last (Australian) summer – this marked Hilfenhaus's first return to the side since his mauling at the hands of Cook and Co – while 21-year-old James Pattinson was playing only his third Test, yet the trio stuck impeccably to the game plan set out by McDermott and received their due reward.
Hilfenhaus returned his best Test figures in the first innings, Siddle took six wickets in the match, including Sachin Tendulkar twice, and Pattinson was chosen as man of the match, already his second such award. Pattinson bowled quickly, aggressively – he worked over Tendulkar ahead of Siddle's coup de grâce – and maintained the agreed on and about off-stump line that ensured India's batsmen, whose application abroad has again been called into question, had to play.
"I wasn't even born when [Tendulkar] started playing cricket, so to go out there and bowl against him and have some success against their batsmen is just unbelievable and to get a win is even better," said Pattinson, whose efforts were applauded by his captain.
"I've got to give full credit to our bowlers," said Michael Clarke. "We all know how dangerous India's batting line-up is and for our bowlers to be able to restrict them in both innings, full credit to them. They [executed the plans] very well in this Test match. We deserve this win because of the effort and time we've put into our preparation."
Mahendra Singh Dhoni, Clarke's counterpart, agreed. "You need to give the credit to the opposition bowlers because of the line and length they bowled," he said. "They bowled really well, a really good line close to that off-stump area."
McDermott, who took 291 wickets in his 71 Tests, became bowling coach in May – he saw off Allan Donald, Andy Bichel and Jason Gillespie to take over the role from Troy Cooley, who was unable to replicate the success in his native land he had enjoyed with England. There has been a marked improvement under the Queenslander's guidance, certainly since the home horror show that was the final Ashes Test when England amassed 644. In their eight Tests since Australia have dismissed opponents for less than 200 six times, and only in two innings, against Sri Lanka and South Africa, can the attack be said to have failed.
Yesterday India first struggled to rid themselves of Australia's tail, Pattinson making a career best 37, and then, chasing 292, soon slipped to 81 for 6 and were all out inside 48 overs.
"We need to apply ourselves a lot more," said Dhoni, whose side have now lost five successive Tests on their travels. They failed to make the most of clear opportunities during the game, especially when 214 for 2 in their first innings and having Australia 27 for 4 in their second innings.
The frailties of both sides were plain to see at the MCG, which hosted nearly 190,000 spectators over the four days: a shot in the arm for Test cricket. Australia may have depth to their seam attack – although it does not match the resources available to either England or South Africa – but their batting is certainly still suspect. It required the waning powers of Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey to dig them out of trouble. With no Shane Watson to anchor the top of the order there is a lack of substance to the first three. The wounds of 47 all out against South Africa and 136 all out against New Zealand in the last two months remain raw.
That brittleness offers India every chance of a way back into the series but that will also require their stellar names to live up to their billing removed from home comfort zones. The two teams will toast the New Year in Sydney, where the second Test begins on Tuesday, but there cannot yet be any great cause for celebration either way.
Scoreboard from the MCG
First Test, Melbourne Cricket Ground. Australia won by 122 runs and lead four-Test series 1-0; Australia won toss
Australia: First Innings 333 (Cowan 68, Ponting 62; Khan 4-77)
India: First Innings 282 (Tendulkar 73, Dravid 68, Sehwag 67; Hilfenhaus 5-75)
Australia: Second Innings (overnight 179-8; Hussey 79*, Ponting 60; Yadav 4-49)
M E K Hussey c Dhoni b Khan 89
J L Pattinson not out 37
B W Hilfenhaus c Laxman b I Sharma 14
Extras (b5 lb2 w1 nb5) 13
Total (76.3 overs) 240
Fall (contd) 9-197.
Bowling Khan 20-4-53-3, Yadav 20-4-70-4, I Sharma 12.3-0-43-2, Ashwin 22-4-60-1, Sehwag 2-0-7-0.
India: Second Innings
G Gambhir c Ponting b Siddle 13
V Sehwag c Hussey b Hilfenhaus 7
R Dravid b Pattinson 10
S R Tendulkar c Hussey b Siddle 32
V V S Laxman c Cowan b Pattinson 1
V Kohli lbw b Hilfenhaus 0
*†M S Dhoni b Pattinson 23
R Ashwin c Cowan b Siddle 30
Z Khan c Cowan b Pattinson 13
I Sharma not out 6
U Yadav c Warner b Lyon 21
Extras (lb10 w2 nb1) 13
Total (47.5 overs) 169
Fall 1-17, 2-39, 3-58, 4-68, 5-69, 6-81, 7-117, 8-141, 9-142.
Bowling Pattinson 15-2-53-4, Hilfenhaus 18-4-39-2, Siddle 9-1-42-3, Lyon 5.5-0-25-1.
Umpires M Erasmus (SA) and I J Gould (Eng).
Second Test: Tuesday-7 January (Sydney)
Third Test: 13-17 January (Perth)
Fourth Test: 24-28 January (Adelaide)