Looking to seal their berth in the second ICC World Test championship, India’s wait got longer after Australia triggered a cataclysmic upset on the proceedings of the Border-Gavaskar trophy. Winning the third Test, it set the series alight, and stunned the hosts.

Losing the toss should have put the visitors on the mat for a third Test running and put India in the driver’s seat as far as the ICC World Test championship final was concerned. However, while India won the toss, they won little else through the bleak two days, and a barely there session on day three, that comprised the third Test in the prestigious Border-Gavaskar trophy.

The unusually long gap between the second and the third Test with the additional two days after the second Test in Delhi ended in three days like the first Test in Nagpur. This seemed to have put India in a dangerous state of mind bordering on false security.

India underestimated Australia’s ability to wake up when they smelled India’s panic in the first hour of the first day’s play. To be fair, Australia had done little up till that point to instil fear in the hosts about losing on their own turf.

Yet it was not as if India were not without their own battles, even if the wins did try to make a more convincing argument that India could sail with a little extra baggage. The batting order has been suspect at the top with KL Rahul doing little justice to the long rope handed to him.

Repeated wobbles meant that players like Axar Patel who was roped in as the third spinner in the team had done little with the ball but played a significant role with the bat by way of rear guard action to pull India from the precipice into a position of power.

Locking in two of the four Tests meant that India retained the Border-Gavaskar Trophy and also, were inching closer to that championship berth. In contrast, Australia had a ton of problems to contend with, including their playing eleven and an indisposed captain.

That India could not take advantage of the indecisiveness in the visitors’ camp is perhaps what will rankle Rohit Sharma’s team the most.

The hugely embarrassing defeat by nine wickets can only be attributed to one thing: carelessness. While Australia went about the first two Tests wailing about the spinner friendly pitches and home advantage to India, the Indore pitch proved to be unplayable even to the best of India’s batsmen.

But where pragmatism could have played a part in nullifying the idea of demons in the pitch, India could have just as easily had the upper hand as the swinging pendulum in the match showed, their batsmen having been raised on the dust bowls.

That players chose to keep playing like novices arguably on one of the more difficult pitches encountered says a lot. Shreyas Iyer’s attacking batting was brief but insightful as was Cheteshwar Pujara yet again showing in understated fashion the guile of playing great defence interspersed with genuine stroke making that fetched runs on board and kept India in the hunt.

The value of having a strong player with great temperament could not be reiterated enough through Pujara. Simultaneously it showed a chasm of understanding that could have been beneficial to more in India’s batting line up.

The fact that India still had hope with Pujara at the crease and the deflation and lack of application before and after him paints quite the picture.

To think that Australia brought along greenhorns like Todd Murphy and a replacement no less in Matthew Kuhnemann to aid lead spinner in Nathan Lyon and yet managed to walk away with impressive numbers (both debutant spinners had five wicket hauls in the series and Lyon had eight wickets in India’s second innings) speaks volumes. It doesn’t just say much about the nature of the pitch but also, of the way the Indian batsmen approached what should have been familiar turf at home.

If Rohit Sharma was adamant that India should play to their strengths when it comes to pitch matters, his exasperation was understandable when he stated the obvious that every batsman must also play well if the Test is to run its full course of five days.

If capitulation was the name of the game, Australia were mastering the art of it, evident in their own second innings when they ceded a position of power as Peter Handscomb and Cameron Green steadied the ship only to lose six wickets for a paltry 11 runs on board, giving India hope after all, trailing by 70 runs instead of a psychological triple digit score of 100+.

That India nearly returned the favour was disappointing given that Australia could have been stretched, to at least wobble. But Australia after negotiating a tricky first half hour on the third day, sped things up, picked up the 76 runs needed for victory and pulled the veritable rabbit out of the hat.

No bones have been made about the fact that Australia have been nursing a deep captaincy crisis. The fact that the discussions down under have repeatedly veered towards the possibility of Steven Smith or David Warner captaining the team, has shown that the selectors have no faith in the crop coming through. Or that Australia have not found someone of a robust enough temperament to take on both, steering the ship with their performance on the field and with their leadership acumen.

While Smith has had a lot of resistance over his so called “soft” leadership, amplified even more in the aftermath of sandpaper-gate, Warner’s ambitions threatened to open a can of worms, whose lid was barely replaced back around the Ashes. In that light, while Cummins’ absence handed the reins to Smith, this win might actually soften the harsh glare of scrutiny on Smith’s reignited captaincy hopes and Cummins’ leadership assessment thus far.

On the other hand, Rohit Sharma could not have had a more baffling and embarrassing post match press conference. Fielding questions about the quality of the pitch, home advantage and whether India were prepared enough for the resurgence of the visitors, Rohit could only flick things away to fine leg, though none made the boundary.

Under focus, Rohit Sharma’s tactics were brought into question, about why Ravichandran Ashwin, who started the cascade for Australia in the first Test, was kept away from bowling in Australia’s second innings for at least an hour and about fifteen overs by which time Australia were entrenching themselves. Why hold back a spinner who was working in tandem with Ravindra Jadeja to keep Australia’s batting on the back foot?

Did India let the knot on the noose loosen enough for Australia to do the Houdini? This will of course be left to the what-if’s box.

Not helping Rohit Sharma were his spinners, with whom he couldn’t come to agreement with, with regard to the DRS system where two of the three calls India made only made them look foolish. The umpire’s decision was fairly obvious, but also, crucially denied India chances to make more pertinent calls at other times, losing their right to appeal and/or reverse the decision at a later time in Australia’s innings.

There was equal concern over Ravindra Jadeja who despite his own milestone markers and contributions in this Test series, has been unforgivable on certain occasions. He had overstepped the crease no less than three times as a spinner. This also ended up in India losing three wicket taking deliveries, which on a pitch like Indore could have had a more telling effect, depending on who was batting.

There was concern whether anyone was having a word with the all-rounder who has been quite terrific with his contributions otherwise post recovery from injury.

Australia have struggled to present a strong playing eleven for some time now. There has been much criticism back home about the way Pat Cummins, the current Australian captain, and Andrew MacDonald, the coach taking over after Justin Langer was unceremoniously sacked, were running the ship.

Questions seemed to be pinging even more about their dubious selection policies that saw the likes of Travis Head warning the bench and also, about Usman Khawaja until the ship had already sailed on Australia’s chances.

On the flip side, David Warner’s injury has been seen as a boon in disguise because the prolific veteran has been out of form and has been dogged by controversy once more. His absence has opened a door as did Cummins’ who had to fly home to tend to his ailing mother.

While Australia will think they have finally found their groove and staff of players with whom they will hope to do similar heroics in Ahmedabad in the fourth Test, it will be interesting to watch the shoe on the other foot.

Is it India’s turn to panic and will they make some knee-jerk changes? Being brave enough to blood Shubman Gill finally after heavy criticism was hailed on KL Rahul, will India stick to the tried and tested and back themselves to come good when push comes to shove as it has in the fourth Test?

The result of the third Test have not only put India’s celebrations on hold in terms of winning the Border-Gavaskar trophy outright, but also, have put on the backburner India’s hopes of sealing a berth in the ICC World Test championships.

This is not to say that India have lost an opportunity but were there to be problems in the final Test in Ahmedabad, it still leaves a long shot of an opportunity for Sri Lanka to sneak through the door if they can pull the rug from under New Zealand, not an easy thing to do and certainly not in New Zealand conditions.

But it does deny India the joy of having made it through on the back of a strong performance, which now feels diluted with doubts setting in after what happened on the chaotic first day’s play when the morning of 90 minutes and overall 30 overs spelled chaos and commiseration for the hosts whose 109 runs came back to haunt them and how!