The umpires called for drinks and the Indians heaved a sigh of momentary relief as the 12th man walked on to the ground with the drinks casket. The Australian batsmen, Michael Clarke and Michael Hussey, were cruising and the latter had just reached 150.
The break would have allowed them to recharge their batteries and launch a fresh assault on the Indian bowlers – who were already broken beyond repair. But as they neared the drinks trolley, they showed no sign of stopping… they continued to walk to the pavilion.
Just like that. Australia had declared the innings with Clarke on 329 and Hussey on 150. The Indians were puzzled. So taken aback were Dhoni and Co that they didn’t even have time to shake hands with them at the end of the innings, Gautam Gambhir did it at close of play. But puzzled is probably too mild a term to describe what the Indians felt at that moment – with the exception of Virender Sehwag – they must have probably all been shocked.
Another six runs would have taken Clarke past 334 – Don Bradman’s historic Australian record that stood for a long time before Mark Taylor equalled it in 1998.
A further 62 runs would have taken him past Matthew Hayden’s 380 and then he would be within striking distance of Brian Lara’s world record. The commentators — who were salivating over the prospect of record after record falling – were surprised too.
You don’t get past 300 everyday. Only 21 batsmen have reached the mark in cricket history. Before Clarke, only Bradman had scored 300-plus batting lower than 4 (Headingley, 1934). Given the ease with which he was playing, he had 400 for the taking and that isn’t an exaggeration.
So Clarke may not have the opportunity to get past 300 ever again. He may never have a stab at becoming the highest-ever individual scorer in the history of the game; he may never get the multi-million dollars; the ever-lasting fame, the pride of being a world record holder; all that and more because he chose to declare the innings.
When he was asked why he decided to declare at the end of the day, Clarke only said this: “Making 100s without winning is useless which is why I declared. I wanted to give the bowlers as much time as possible to bowl us to a win. There is only one reason to play… to win.”
Ironically, the man who was sent by India for the post-day press conference was Rahul Dravid. In case, you have forgotten, recall that day in March 2004, when the right-hander was standing in as captain for the injured Sourav Ganguly in the first Test against Pakistan at Multan.
Dravid had declared the innings with Sachin Tendulkar on 194 with 16 overs left in the day. His reasons were the same as Clarke – but it attracted high-voltage drama behind the scenes when the master batsman came out in the press conference and said that he felt let down.
In a nutshell, that’s the difference between India and Australia. We play for records and they play to win – even when they sometimes have a team that doesn’t look like it can win. Our defensive mindset may have been exemplified by skipper MS Dhoni’s field settings but it isn’t just his fault – that’s what he has seen his skippers and seniors do. So why expect him to be any different?
If he can, he, more than Ganguly, will be the man to revolutionise Indian cricket for the times to come. History is written by the victors. That’s a saying that Clarke has taken to heart, the victors… not the century-makers.