Many theories will be offered for Australia stumbling on No. 17 again, this time at the WACA. Yes, the Indians, particularly the bowlers played out of their skin (Why does the press always use this phrase when India wins against serious opposition abroad?); yes, Hayden’s absence affected Australia (Would he have made up for the margin of 72 runs and the 19 runs that Chris Rogers managed between the two innings?); yes, Shaun Tait proved to be as effective as Rawl Lewis; yes, there are many more reasons like these. A certain passage of play could have played a key part as well.
Roll your memory back to overs 46 to 61 of the Indian second innings. India finished the 45th over at 182 for 6. For the next 15 overs, Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke rolled their arms over, one bowling hopeful seam-up, the other, hopeless donkey drops. And by the time Brett Lee returned for over 62, India had moved on to 234 for 6, which, added to the healthy first innings lead of 118, took India’s overall lead to 352. (As if on cue, Lee softened the Indians and Symonds took two wickets in his next over.)
Were those 15 overs crucial? MS Dhoni, who was having quite a wretched time with the bat in the series, was allowed to settle down; he ended up with a useful 38, and added 75 priceless runs with VVS Laxman. The period also allowed Laxman to contribute, helping him to shepherd the tail around to add a further 56 runs after the Symonds double-strike. Considering the final margin was 72 runs, you can work out the mathematics and the probabilities.
Ricky Ponting’s reason for the Clarke-Symonds duet is perhaps that Australia were lagging behind on the over-rate, and risked incurring the wrath of the match referee even to the extent of a match ban for the skipper. (Eventually, they were only two overs short, and so escaped with just a monetary fine, 20 per cent for the skip and 10 per cent for the rest of the team.)
The imperative of having to bowl 90 overs in 390 minutes (6 hours of normal play plus the half-hour extension) proved to be a bit beyond Australia, more so because of their four-pronged pace attack.
Should this little aside force a re-think on the minimum overs requirement? Is 4 minutes too tight for an over of fast bowling? Is it fair that the requirement be decided based on a certain notional number of overs of slow bowling in an innings? Are teams constrained to choose their line-up based on this requirement rather than the nature of the pitch and the opposition?
In test match cricket, with its five day spread and its acceptance of a draw as an acceptable result (at least officially, if not for the spectators), is this kind of time constraint required at all? Remember the West Indies teams of the 1980s. Do you imagine Marshall, Holding, Roberts, Garner, et al squeezing in anything approaching 90 overs in a day’s play? On the contrary, did they not produce results in test matches?
Of course, there is the other side of this argument as well, where teams delay things to prevent the opposition fro winning. Dilip Doshi, under instructions from Sunil Gavaskar, taking ten minutes (or was it twelve minutes?) to complete an over of slow left-arm comes to mind. So does Desmond Haynes’ (in one of those rare games he captained the West Indies) delaying tactics in the test match against England at Port of Spain in the 1989-90 season.
So yes, we do need some kind of control over time. But whether 90 overs is too harsh is the question. Inasmuch as you don’t want a team to lose because of poor umpiring, you don’t want them to struggle because of regulations that have perhaps been overtaken by reality and pragmatism.