One of the most important and trickiest decisions that a captain makes in a Test match is declaration. Although he gets the support and guidance from his coach, the final decision lies on him.
The declaration is a crucial aspect in Tests because it can significantly alter the course of the game. The amount of time left in the Test match, the number of runs scored, the number of overs needed by the bowlers to bowl the opposition out, weather conditions, nature of the pitch and, whether it is a must-win game are some of the factors that play a crucial role in declaring the innings.
There have been instances where a captain has declared under questionable circumstances. This article tries to encapsulate three such declarations.
#1 Pakistan vs India (Multan, 2004)
India took on Pakistan in a three-match Test series at their backyard. It was the first Test at Multan and Virender Sehwag lit up the occasion by scoring a belligerent 309* and India posted a mammoth 675/5 declared.
Sachin Tendulkar in the same match supported Sehwag by making stroke-filled 194*. The surprising thing was, skipper Rahul Dravid declared the innings when Tendulkar was just six shy of his double-century.
Even though India went on to win the Test comfortably by an innings and 52 runs, the main talking point was the declaration from Dravid.
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The initial plan chalked out by Dravid and coach John Wright was that India would declare post-tea and make Pakistan bat for around 15 overs. However, a major miscommunication happened and Dravid declared the innings when there were 16 overs left in the day.
Tendulkar in his autobiography Playing it my way wrote,
“With more than half an hour into the post-tea session, Ramesh Powar, who was substituting in the game came on the field and asked me to accelerate. I even joked with him, saying that I was aware that we needed quick runs but with the field totally spread out, there was only so much we could do."
“A little later, when I was on 194, he came out again and said I should try to get my double hundred in that over itself as Rahul had decided to declare. I was startled, to say the least, because in my mind I still had 12 balls in which to score the remaining six runs before 15 overs were left for the day. As it happened, I did not get to play a single ball in that over with Yuvraj on strike against Imran Farhat. He blocked the first two balls, before picking two runs off the third ball. He once again blocked the fourth ball and was out the first ball.”
Once Yuvraj fell, Dravid declared the innings leaving Tendulkar extremely furious.
#2 Australia vs India (Sydney, 2012)
It was the historic 100th Test match at the Sydney cricket ground and India were already 1-0 down in the four-match Test series. India batted first and were bowled out for just 191 courtesy a four-wicket haul from James Pattinson.
In reply, Australia posted a huge total of 659/4 with skipper Micheal Clarke notching a brilliant 329*. Ricky Ponting and Micheal Hussey scored hundreds and the Indians had to toil hard for close to two days.
However, once Micheal Hussey reached 150, Michael Clarke declared the innings when he was just five runs short of surpassing the legendary Sir Don Bradman’s and Mark Taylor’s score of 334. With a lead of 468 runs and plenty of time left in the Test, Clarke was certainly well on course to score more. But he chose to put the team’s interests ahead of his personal glory.
Clarke’s selfless nature was clearly evident when he said,
“I didn’t have Don Bradman and Mark Taylor’s score in my head whatsoever. I’m stoked to have managed to make 300-odd runs today in this Test match, but the most important thing for me now is that we win the Test and that was a big reason for my declaration. It is about putting the team first. What I love most about this game, is seeing this team win. I’ve been like that as a player and I’ll be no different as a captain. If it was best for the team to continue batting, then I would have continued to bat.”
His declaration was filled with magnanimity and even Mark Taylor echoed his sentiments. He said,
“He’s a guy who loves the game of cricket and I don’t think people have quite understood that with Michael. He had an opportunity to make the world Test record today, there’s no doubt about that. He could’ve done that and still had two days to bowl India out and win this Test. He could’ve achieved both goals but what he wanted to say is ‘yes, I want to do well myself. But I want to captain a side that’s going to win first.’ A lot of people focused on the negatives. But now he is the main man. I think we’re starting to see the real Michael Clarke.”
Clearly, the 100th Test at the SCG was one to remember across ages.
#3 Australia vs Pakistan (Adelaide, 2019)
Comeback man David Warner entered the record books by playing a gargantuan knock of 335* in the day and night Test match against Pakistan at Adelaide.
Following his 154 at Adelaide, Warner continued his rich vein of form by smashing the Pakistani bowlers all around the park. The innings was studded with 37 boundaries and 1 maximum. The most important thing about the knock was that he never looked troubled and he scored at an impressive strike rate of 80.14.
It has certainly been a huge turnaround for Warner as he had scored just 95 runs in 10 innings during this year’s Ashes series in England.
With Warner going all guns blazing, he was certainly well on course to surpass Brian Lara’s highest score of 400. But skipper Tim Paine declared the innings before the dinner break and Warner was deprived of his chance to surpass the record.
Tim Paine said to Channel 7, an Australian television channel that,
" It's a tough one, no doubt. I think everyone would have loved to see the 400-mark get beaten. But unfortunately with the weather that's around, we made a decision as a team that we would put in place time. Davey was part of that decision and was all for it. We are here to win Test matches."
David Warner too echoed Tim Paine's intentions and said in the post match press conference that,
"We looked at the weather that’s around tomorrow, we wanted to give ourselves a lot of time. We’ve managed to get six wickets down. If there is a bit of rain about tomorrow, the bowlers get a good rest, they only have to come out and try to get 14 wickets in the last two days. ”
When he was asked about the prospects of reaching 400, Warner frankly admitted that, “Four hundred. If the boundary was a bit smaller straighter I might have taken them on a bit more."
Tim Paine’s perspective was that the team needed to show intent and declaring the innings even when a batsman was just a touching distance away from achieving a milestone meant the most admirable aspect of Australian cricket- personal milestones are secondary to team interests.
David Warner must be extremely satisfied by crossing Sir Don Bradman’s Test score. He is the second highest run-scorer for Australia in Tests behind Matthew Hayden's 380.