Sport can be a cruel, demanding mistress. Australia, so repugnant in manner and victory in Sydney, arrived in Perth crowing at the pace and bounce of the pitch, their vaunted bowlers and fully expecting an easy win. It would have been their 17th consecutive victory, a record, and since they had last lost in Perth in 1997, one that was expected. But it was not to be – India broke the run with a win by 72 runs to make it 2-1 and give themselves a chance of levelling the series in the Fourth and final Test in Adelaide, which starts on Thursday.
The fallout from Sydney had abated, partly because of the dignity of the Indian captain, Anil Kumble, and also because his counterpart, Ricky Ponting, belatedly admitted he and his players may have been wrong. It was hardly a mea culpa but did suggest the players had finally learned of the Australian public's general disgust with them. An abusive phone call to Pont-ing's parents may have also informed as well as enraged. Whatever, cordial relations resumed between two cricketing titans, and the world settled down to watch.
And what they saw from Wednesday to Saturday was a Test match as gripping as any in recent memory. The Indians fought like cornered Bengali tigers, Australia struggled to impose themselves and not a misplaced word was muttered.
Players disappointed at umpir-ing decisions walked off – asthey should – fielders chirped, encouraged and generally made batsmen aware they were not welcome without resorting to vulgarity or mindless abuse, and the standard of play was often exceptional. It may have helped that the umpiring was considerably better than in Sydney.
The stars were India's seam bowlers, not Australia's. Ishant Sharma, the 6ft 4in seamer from Delhi, bowled with intelligence beyond his 19 years and worked Ponting over yesterday morningas thoroughly as Andrew Flintoff had done in 2005. His father sells air-conditioning, and his son was both cool and polite. It has served him well this series as he has invariably shaken hands with opposition, tried diligently and when he has lost his run-up like a nervous young colt, ignored the baying of the crowd and concentrated on regaining rhythm. We will hear plenty about him in the next few years.
His senior partners were equally impressive. RP Singh and Irfan Pathan consistently swung the ball and Kumble responded with shrewd and attacking fields.
Each day the ground was full to capacity and the West Austral-ian public delighted in watching an actual contest. For years Australians have grumbled at the lack of fight in opponents and while they enjoy their team winning, they prefer a match worthy of the name.
"Bloody good win, mate, they deserve it after Sydney," said one Waca member of what was only the tourists' fifth win Down Under. The parochialism of the team in Sydney was not evident among the crowd in Perth. Mitchell Johnson summed it up best after scoring his first Test fifty: "India bowled beautifully in the conditions and deserved to win".
So to Adelaide, and one hopes the cricket will continue to thrive. It should do; the series, as they say here, is a "beauty".
Ricky's record run
AUSTRALIA v South Africa:
26-30 Dec 2005, Melbourne: won by 184 runs. 2-6 Jan 2006, Sydney: won by 8 wkts.
(Break of 10 weeks)
South Africa v AUSTRALIA:
16-18 March, Cape Town: won by 7 wkts. 24-28 March, Durban: won by 112 runs. 31 March-4 April, Johannesburg: won by 2 wkts.
Bangladesh v AUSTRALIA:
9-13 April, Fatullah: won by 3 wkts. 16-20 April, Chittagong: won by inns & 80 runs.
(Break of seven months)
AUSTRALIA v England:
23-27 Nov, Brisbane: won by 277 runs. 1-5 Dec, Adelaide: won by 6 wkts. 14-18 Dec, Perth: won by 206 runs. 26-28 Dec, Melbourne: won by inns & 99 runs. 2-5 Jan 2007, Sydney: won by 10 wkts.
(Break of nine months)
AUSTRALIA v Sri Lanka:
8-12 Nov 2007, Brisbane: won by innings & 40 runs. 16-20 Nov, Hobart: won by 96 runs.
AUSTRALIA v India:
26-29 Dec, Melbourne: won by 337 runs. 2-6 Jan 2008, Sydney: won by 122 runs.