Maybe there's life in the old dog yet. 2009 was not great for Australia – no year in which the Ashes are surrendered can be – but 2010 got off to the most thrilling of beginnings yesterday when they bowled out Pakistan for just 139 to seal a narrow triumph and victory in the series.
Few gave the hosts any hope of victory before this fourth day, but their jubilant captain Ricky Ponting says his side never lost hope they could overturn three days of Pakistan dominance. Given their recent history at the SCG – they have enjoyed tight wins over India and South Africa in the past two seasons – you can understand why. "I don't think anyone else in the world other than probably all the blokes inside our room thought we could win," he said.
"The other [recent SCG Tests] we've probably been in positions where we probably should have won the games. So this one, turning up today 80 runs ahead, I think all of us in our changing room felt that if we could get 150 we were going to be right in the game. Where it ended up today was a sort of a difficult number I think for Pakistan to look at and try to chase."
Pakistan needed 176 for victory. Ponting added: "Those sort of totals are always hard to chase but what Huss and Sids [Michael Hussey and Peter Siddle, who put on 123 for the ninth wicket] did today and what the bowlers did and probably more importantly today what the fielders did ... those little things like that can be the difference between winning and losing."
Ponting conceded the furore surrounding his decision to bat first on a green SCG wicket on the opening day had taken a toll on the entire team. Although he could see the lighter side of his contentious decision after pulling off the unlikely triumph, the home captain stood by his brave call before admitting he is unlikely to ever choose to bowl first in a Test match again. "It's been a pretty tough few days not only for me but the team," Ponting said.
"What we've read over the last couple of days and what we've seen and heard on the news probably just steeled us all a little bit and just made us want to fight the game out as much as we can and prove that we're never out of the contest."
Shell-shocked Pakistan captain Mohammad Yousuf (19) accepted the blame for his side's disappointing second innings before conceding his side's lack of Test experience was a major factor.
Yousuf said that his dismissal was the final day's pivotal moment. "I think they batted very well in the second innings, and my shot this afternoon was very pathetic and it turned the game that shot," he said, referring to an aggressive drive he returned caught and bowled to Nathan Hauritz just after tea. "I think otherwise we would have won the game, not easily but we [would] have won.
"We have to be professional, we have to perform... we need to take the pressure, especially me. I'm a very experienced player, while they're [his team-mates] all young."
The three-match series will now shift to Hobart on 14 January with Australia holding an unassailable 2-0 advantage.
Greatest Tests: Other fine comebacks
England v Australia (Headingley, July 1981)
England were quoted at odds of 500-1 to win after the visitors had raced to a first-innings lead of 227. With the hosts on 135 for 7, Ian Botham hit 149 from 148 balls before Bob Willis took 8 for 43 to send Australia tumbling to defeat.
West Indies v England (Trinidad, Mar 94)
Led by Angus Fraser and Chris Lewis with four wickets apiece, England restricted the hosts to 252 in their first innings. By the time England came to bat a second time they required just 194 to win – but were skittled for 46.
West Indies v Australia (Barbados, March 1999)
Having conceded a first-innings lead of 161, West Indies looked doomed. Enter Courtney Walsh, who took 5 for 39 to skittle the Aussies before Brian Lara hit 153 not out to secure a barely credible one-wicket win.
India v Australia (Calcutta, March 2001)
A Steve Waugh ton helped the Aussies to 445 before they bowled the hosts out for 171. Following on, India hit 657 for 7 before they declared to leave Australia 384 to win. Harbhajan Singh took 6 for 73 as Australia were bowled out for 212, losing by 171 runs.
Australia v Pakistan
Sydney (Fourth day of five); Australia beat Pakistan by 36 runs; Australia won toss
Australia: First Innings 127 (M Asif 6-41).
Pakistan: First Innings 333 (Butt 71, Farhat 53; Bollinger 4-72).
Australia: Second Innings Overnight: 286-8 (Watson 97)
M Hussey not out 134
P Siddle c ul-Haq b Asif 38
D Bollinger b Kaneria 0
Extras (b 6, lb 5, w 3, nb 5) 19
Total (125.4 overs) 381
Fall: 1-105, 2-144, 3-159, 4-217, 5-226, 6-246, 7-252, 8-257, 9-380, 10-381.
Bowling: M Asif 27-8-53-2, M Sami 19.5-4-74-0, U Gul 28-4-83-3, D Kaneria 47.5-3-151-5, I Farhat 3-0-9-0.
Pakistan: Second Innings
I Farhat c Johnson b Bollinger 22
S Butt c Haddin b Johnson 21
F Iqbal c Haddin b Johnson 7
*M Yousuf c & b Hauritz 19
U Akmal c Johnson b Bollinger 49
M ul-Haq c Hussey b Hauritz 0
†K Akmal c Haddin b Johnson 11
M Sami c Haddin b Hauritz 2
U Gul c Siddle b Hauritz 6
D Kaneria c Watson b Hauritz 0
M Asif not out 0
Extras (w 1, nb 1) 2
Total (38 overs) 139
Fall: 1-34, 2-50, 3-51, 4-77, 5-77, 6-103, 7-133, 8-133, 9-135, 10-139.
Bowling: D Bollinger 12-3-32-2, P Siddle 4-1-27-0, N Hauritz 12-1-53-5, M Johnson 10-2-27-3.
Umpires: E A R de Silva (SL) & B R Doctrove (WI).