For two Tests, India has faced mountains and climbed them. This time -- with everything on the line -- they turned their backs on the mountain, and said little molehills are more our style.
When the individual mind goes and the collective will follows, what remains is a pathetic parody of a team -- and that is what fans who hoped for a fight -- and I must admit I am one of them -- got.
Forget the pitch. Don't bother with the bowling. Don't even mention the 'mental fatigue' of a grinding tour coming on top of a non-stop home season. The plain and simple fact is that on the day that called for mental fortitude, for determination and for pride, Team India went AWOL.
Dean Jones -- who, on one famous occasion, battled heat and humidity, threw up mid-pitch and kept on fighting to save a Test in Chennai -- suggested a while ago that maybe the modern focus on ODIs had resulted in breeding batsmen who no longer had the mental strength to face up to the task of batting session after session with focus, concentration, intact.
Maybe, they just don't breed them like that any more.
Or maybe they do? Look at the team that won this contest. When they came to India in 2004, pundits on both sides of the border suggested that it was the weakest Pakistan team ever to go on tour. In Mohali, they seemed done and dusted -- but in the sort of fightback India could have used here, fought back to draw the game. They lost in Kolkata -- but fought back again, won in Bangalore, and squared the series. And in the process, the most volatile team in world cricket discovered that the collective will is often greater than individual brilliance -- real, or notional.
Since then, Pakistan has been a team transformed -- ready, willing and able to absorb punishment and fight back; willing and able to back each other up, to delight in each other's success, and to surrender individual glory to team interests.
That ability -- to be at the receiving end and not take a backward step -- in the ultimate analysis has proved the difference between the two sides; the stronger team in the mind took the spoils.
India, meanwhile, can debate, ad nauseum, whether this player should be in the team or that other player should be out of it -- but the problem won't go away; not until the soft mental underbelly of the side is done away with.
That might sound a harsh indictment of a side that fought hard and long on two heartbreaking pitches before this one -- but IMHO, you don't earn brownie points for running three quarters of a marathon and then throwing up your hands and going ah, the heck with it, that's enough for this time.
India can, Greg Chappell said this morning, save this game. He was right -- it could, if the batsmen had the courage and the will for the fight. It didn't -- and nowhere is that best reflected than in the fact that on a pitch that continues to play placid, a team rated as one of the best batting lineups in the world, a team that had Pakistan delaying its declaration because it thought 518 wasn't enough, did not manage to bat even 60 overs where it was asked to bat 164; in fact, outside of Yuvraj Singh, only Sourav Ganguly came close to batting out 10 overs.
Sourav, for the second time in this match, looked set and then, after a break, lost his concentration. In the first innings, it was drinks; here, it was tea. The first ball after the break was a straight delivery from Razzaq, on leg and middle straightening; Sourav was way too late in getting bat in front of pad. As mentioned when discussing this problem with the likes of Younis Khan and Ricky Ponting among others, Ganguly gets his front pad a long way forward without the bat following, then finds he has to bring his bat around in a semi-circle to meet the ball -- and that can set you up for the ball coming in at you from your wrong side.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni never looked happy, never seemed like he wanted to be out there. He kept bashing the ball hard into the ground, grimacing, fiddling with his gloves and giving it another bash, with all the air of a man who had already given up the task as hopeless. When his counterpart Kamran Akmal first caught international attention with that tremendous fight back against India in Mohali, Dhoni was probably watching on television; the message of not giving up apparently did not get through.
As in the first innings, a no-percentage push to a short ball close to his off stump found the edge to second slip.
Irfan Pathan has in the past shown attitude and courage -- here, he never even had the time to settle. A short angled delivery across his body saw him pick pre-determined defense; the ball grew big on him -- not surprisingly, considering he was on the front foot at the time -- and took the splice of the bat through to gully. And like the Jack and Jill story, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan and finally, Yuvraj Singh who alone seemed to be batting on the same pitch the Pakistanis had piled up runs on for two days, went tumbling after.
What the heck, the series began with records, it might as well end with one: the 341-run margin is Pakistan's biggest in terms of runs. And adding insult to India's various injuries, Pakistan finished off the game in the final session without even needing to resort to the services of either Akthar, or the hugely impressive Asif. Younis tossed the ball to Razzaq and Kaneria and stood back and let them finish it off.
Congrats Pakistan -- after being 39/6 on the first morning to end the first innings with a seven run lead was huge; but to play as they did in the second innings, and crush India mentally, was a performance they can treasure for ages.
For India, it's right back to the drawing board -- and it might be time for hard-nosed pragmatism.
"National icons", "biggest heros" and all the rest of the shibboleths we shroud individual players in need to be forgotten -- the only ground rule that can apply is to pick on form and mental fortitude -- irrespective of whether those qualities vest in 'icons' or tyros.
In passing, it might be worth pointing out that as a nation, Pakistan has elected to put aside the personality clashes between Inzamam and Akthar, between Bob Woolmer and Akthar, between Woolmer and his predecessor Javed Miandad, between Afridi and Younis and even between Inzamam and Younis. Whereas we, in contrast, have split ourselves down the middle, each side hoping that its particular hate object will fail, so we can gloat and ask for his head.
Maybe it is time to remember that whoever fails, the final failure is that of the team -- and the country.