At the end of 3rd day India have taken a lead of 300 runs with all 10 second innings wicket intact. Barring a spectacular collapse inspired by now-unfamiliar Aussie aggression (not the verbal stuff, but the real challenge they can throw at others at their moment of reckoning) India are looking at a lead of 400 plus with 5 sessions and plenty of wickets in hand. Declaring at 400 will be the stuff that relives Test cricket back from dead. But all skippers these days are known to be slightly more defensive than that. Part of the blame goes to declining balance between ball and bat. 450 should be enough. We agree.
But what if acting skipper MS Dhoni is more defensive than we think he is? An Indian declaration with a lead of 450 will allow Australians well over 4 sessions to get those runs. He knows that the Australian batting line-up, if they get going, can bat at run-rates well over that requirement. This pitch shows no signs of decay as yet. So what does the ultra-defensive avatar of Dhoni do at such times?
If Dhoni IS the braveheart we know him to be, he will ask his batsmen to play positively and declare just after lunch. If they get 450, good. If they get more, even better. If they get slightly lesser, no problems with that.
But if Dhoni is unable to profess "we will get them before they get us"to his men, we will see a less than eager middle order tomorrow who will try to ensure that the Aussies have not only more runs to get but also less time to get those. We may even see the Indians slowing the run rates all by themselves, so that they can give themselves the excuse of delaying the declaration. ["We planned to declare at 450 - but Australian negative bowling tactics ensured we could reach it only at tea"].
Here's hoping that on the 20th of October, 2008 Team India will be led by the man we saw at South Africa, the man that led a bunch of young guns to a magnificent, brave and well-earned T20 world cup.