Slow over-rates could cost Australia a world record
Off-field factors are not supposed to impact on Australia's performance, but the lingering cloud of slow over-rates finally became a severe issue and the fall-out could cost them a world record. Instead of building on their incredible revival with four wickets in the first session, Ricky Ponting was forced to use his part-time spinners for 21 overs between lunch and tea in a move that reduced India's stress levels and increased the degree of difficulty of the chase.
The tactic was successful in avoiding a team fine or suspension for the captain, but it altered the course of a gripping game that India continue to master. Sixty-nine runs were given away as Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds were worked with ease by the batsmen, and the mission to collect a 17th successive victory went from pretty-bloody-tricky to virtually impossible. By stumps Australia had lost two wickets and were praying even harder for a miracle.
The unfamiliar requirements on the attack also disrupted their rhythm and when the innings was eventually shut down they were left with a goal of 413, nine more than the previous best Australian pursuit, which was achieved by Bradman's Invincibles 60 years ago. There is no reason to feel sorry for them in the unlikely situation that the runs given away as they tried to reverse the tardiness cost them.
Plodding through overs has been a feature of the series - both sides have been guilty - and Australia added to the weight by picking four fast bowlers. Each man has been quick with the ball but has switched to slow motion when walking back to his mark and between overs. A similar attitude was made famous by West Indies in the 1980s and led to tighter regulations, but the rules did not bother Australia until today.
"It was just silly how far behind we got," the coach Tim Nielsen said. "It was our own making and we couldn't do much about it. We would have liked to have bowled the fast bowlers, but you've got to do something to make it up."
On the opening day they delivered 84 of the expected 90 and before lunch on day four managed only 22, eight fewer than required. Not even the time reductions for four wickets could help the argument and they were suddenly in a hurry to raise their pace.
Australia's main concern was a possible suspension for Ponting if they remained six behind at the end of the innings. "It's something we're very wary of," Nielsen said. However, he does not want the regulations to result in pace quartets being phased out.
"It's something different and is really good to watch," he said. "We don't see it a lot in Australia and I hope it's not pushed out of the game because of the conditions."
Brett Lee had kept Australia in touch with a committed eight-over spell in the first session, but he was limited to fielding duties for most of the second session and his penetration was badly missed. Stuart Clark started with Clarke after lunch before Mitchell Johnson was given three overs without creating the sustained discomfort that occurred before the break.
While the slow men lifted the rate and VVS Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni remained calm, Shaun Tait was sidelined in a match he will not remember fondly. Tait's selection has grown worse by the day as the pitch has not offered the promised excitement and his lack of regular first-class action has been displayed. At least his 21 heavy-footed, wicketless overs - only eight came in the second innings - cannot be blamed for slowing the side too much.
After being 118 behind on first innings, Ponting needed all his bowlers full of bounce and only Lee and Clark had the right amount of spring. However, they were also responsible for the labouring between overs and Australia will have to wait to learn the cost of the snail pace.
Peter English is the Australasia editor of Cricinfo