It was a Test match conceived more in tribute than competition. Launched with 63 seconds of applause to celebrate what was had and commemorate what was lost in Phillip Hughes.
At its climax it was the cut and thrust that honoured and defined the game. Men of skill ripping at each other, trading blows and matching wits in the quest to wrestle and advance momentum. A true and rare Test to the last.
Ultimately it was determined by 63 minutes in which Nathan Lyon conjured a cricketing miracle, retrieving what was almost lost both in the match and in himself.
Deeds to rescue a flagging position and a dilapidated reputation. A spell to prompt rapture in the stands and prayer in his kin.
The off spinner held that he always believed himself capable despite meagre fourth-innings returns.
“It just happened,” Lyon reassured the doubters.
His plain-speaking team-mate Dave Warner noted the pressure Lyon had been subjected too, the maiden 10-wicket haul and the spell that delivered victory. He wryly grinned to the heavens at the unlikelihood of it all.
“Hughesy, thank him again,” Warner said.
Australia won the Adelaide Test by 48 runs with 11 overs to spare. Comfortable enough for the hindsight of history. But fraught and jeopardised for the duration of its reality.
As the fifth day stretched fruitlessly for four and half hours, Australia’s cause was forecast lost.
At first India warded off defeat in the impenetrable stand of Virat Kohli and Murali Vijay. As the chase briskly breezed through the middle session, the idea of victory grew to be compulsive.
Michael Clarke had again hobbled like a crock from the ground. This time with no prospect of return. India had curbed and thwarted Australia from its favoured course of building a lead and forcefully prosecuting until finally the opposition submits or is broken.
But in Test cricket record run chases are rarely matters of required rates. Even when the math makes the case compelling there are the immeasurable realities of pressure and panic. India was only set for as long as Kohli and Vijay were in occupation.
Briefly both were on 99. The stand-in skipper did not dwell on the curiosity, efficiently clipping his way to his second century of the match. The score was 242. By Kohli’s estimation if the pair could add another 40 runs their cause would be irresistible.
But Vijay’s numbers seemed to make him dizzy. He survived a false sweep and an iffy leave on 99, only to miss an off break that planted between his pads. It was destined for middle stump.
Umpire Marais Erasmus had made an art form of declining Lyon’s appeals. The bowler seemed determined to fill a quota of questions per over. The frequently asked umpire had twice declined in error.
This time there was no doubt. The clock read 4:06pm local time. The match advanced.
By 5:09pm Kohli knew the last remaining battle was himself against the roaring Lyon the architect of the collapse.
Indian tail crumbles under Lyon pressure
Ajinkya Rahane never got going, cut off by a crook decision. Rohit Sharma stayed for a long but never good time. Wriddhiman Saha the opposite. His antidote to the pressure was to thrash 13 runs from 10 balls. But the understudy wicketkeeper ran down the wicket once too rashly and was bowled.
In Kohli’s mind the numbers kept moving. Runs to win, balls remaining, overs until the new ball was due. He had accelerated to 141 knowing the fragility in competence and temperament around him. Suddenly getting there quickly was an additional imperative and burden.
Kohli rocked back to Lyon and lifted him into the deep. At the moment of impact he knew he had dragged the shot. It was one mistake more than he could afford.
Mitch Marsh leant beneath the falling ball on the midwicket boundary knowing precisely what was at stake. Some moments simply have to be grasped not grassed. With the task complete Marsh knelt on the turf and put his left hand to his eyes in relief.
Half a ground away Kohli folded in half in despair. For all his efforts, one of finest second innings centuries his contemporaries could recall, his moment as national captain would end without the prize for which he had grafted.
The rest was mopping up. Brad Haddin handsomely auditioned for his prolonged stay as captain.
When he called for the new ball Mitch Johnson struck immediately. Having decided to leave it with Lyon, the spinner fittingly took the final wicket instantaneously. Seven second innings scalps to go with five in the first dig.
Haddin noted the team had relied on skill rather than resorting to emotion to grasp victory. He felt this an important commendation. That is the way with flint hard cricketers. The emotion was left to the aftermath. The tributes and the dedications.
As he affectionately ruffled the 408 painted on the field the many burdens of Lyon were lightened. Never again can it be said he has not bowled his country to victory.