Anyone who’s captained a cricket team knows that a good declaration is all about the timing.
Declare too early and you give the opposition ample opportunity to chase down a lesser target than you might have imagined.
Declare too late, and you don’t give yourself enough time to take ten wickets or risk the opposition not engaging in the chase at all.
These were clearly the same issues facing Michael Clarke on Day 4 in Adelaide.
With the lead already 382 at the start of play, and the highest successful opposition fourth innings chase at the Adelaide Oval still the West Indies’ 5/239 nearly 30 years ago to the day, it really was a matter of ‘when’ the declaration would come.
Clarke and Ricky Ponting weren’t really troubled in the first hour of play, and were moving along at a fairly decent clip when Clarke looked to have got a rough caught behind decision right on drinks.
It was one of those cases where there was a noise, and the bat was a long way away from the body, but replays would show that whatever the noise was, it wasn’t ball on bat.
By this stage, at 4/111, Australia were going better than a run-a-minute to lead by 443, and you felt that a quick dash would see India batting by lunch.
However, there was still no real urgency to up the run-rate.
Mike Hussey faced 40 balls for his 15, and Ponting added only 23 as Australia slowed right up to be 5/154 at lunch.
The lead was 486, and the assumption was that Australia would probably keep batting.
486 was plenty, of course, but the Aussie bats just weren’t batting as if a declaration was imminent.
Brad Haddin had faced 15 balls, but had scored a solitary run!
So what was the target going to be - 550, 600?
Would India even attempt to chase 600 on a crumbling fourth and fifth day Adelaide wicket?
After lunch, the skipper played his card.
Ponting and Haddin returned the crease, leaving India to think they were in for another hour or more in the field.
But it was the old “make ‘em think they’re fielding and spring the surprise declaration” trick.
After just three overs, a dropped Ponting chance, and only another 13 runs, Clarke called them in (with some animated frustration evident) with the total at 5/167.
India were set 500 to win, and given all but five sessions and 146 overs to do it.
If they were inclined, there was plenty of time to chase it down.
A big opening partnership was always going to be crucial in a chase of this magnitude, and there really hasn’t been anything close to that from India this series.
In fact, as a pair, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were yet to break 30.
And they didn’t do it this time, either.
Gambhir went in just the fifth over of the innings, nicking Ryan Harris through to Haddin, with India losing their first wicket at just 14.
Sehwag then went on a one-man rampage, seemingly intent on chasing the remaining 486 runs by himself.
But he didn’t last, holing out when India most needed him to lead from the front.
Worst of all, he was out to a Nathan Lyon waist-high full toss, proving that no matter what level of cricket you’re playing, the ‘fully’ is still a wicket-taking delivery.
It was one of those deliveries that nine out of ten times Sehwag would put well over the fence, but this was the one time he needed to show some patience.
It was a disappointing end after such a promising start and just caps off a pretty ordinary series for Sehwag.
Rahul Dravid made a start, despite looking likely to be bowled at any time, but ultimately edged a wide one to Mike Hussey in the gully.
Frustratingly, Dravid was held on the ground while Umpire Dharmasena sent another wicket upstairs for review of the no-ball.
He did this after the Gambhir wicket, too, and as was the case then, this replay showed at least half of Harris’ foot behind the line.
It was a ridiculously frivolous hold-up and confirmation that the front foot was not being checked in play.
It emerged later that Dharmasena could not actually see Harris’ foot coming down and hence the need to check when a wicket had fallen.
But as I explained to my modest Twitter following, I'm sorry, but that's a cop out.
It is the umpire’s duty - nay, requirement - to stand wherever he needs to in order to see the front foot.
It’s becoming one of my pet hates in cricket.
Nathan Lyon was, as I predicted on Day 3, was becoming a dangerous commodity for India.
On a deteriorating wicket, balls that weren’t doing anything in the morning were suddenly turning sharply.
For a burgeoning off-spinner, scalps don’t get much bigger than SR Tendulkar, and Lyon claimed one for the poolroom when he snared a bit of the Little Master’s bat, glove, and pad to see the ball pop up for Ed Cowan in short.
And he struck again shortly after too, when the supple wrists of VVS Laxman surgically found the awaiting hands of Shaun Marsh.
If it wasn’t for a late piece of Ben Hilfenhaus brilliance to run Virat Kohli out in the penultimate over of the day, Marsh’s catch would’ve been the clear highlight of the evening session.
India will resume on Day 5 in a world of trouble at 6/166, still trailing by 334 runs.
For the first fifth day or the summer, the Adelaide Oval gates will be thrown open, so if you’re in the neighbourhood, do yourself a massive favour and get there tomorrow for the whitewash celebrations.
The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Cricket Australia