Australia's continually tardy over-rates should cost them something more serious than money or a ban, and will probably result in them losing the Border-Gavaskar Trophy on Monday. Having frightened India by taking six wickets in the second session, Ricky Ponting's men returned after tea with their opponents owning a lead of 252, a target which might have been in the manageable range on the final day.
Then Ponting quickly turned off the threats because he was about ten overs behind the over-rate and was facing a suspension for the opening game against New Zealand. During the next two hours the target moved from testing to record-breaking as Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Harbhajan Singh breezed to a partnership of 108. Unless Australia can manage the fourth-highest successful chase in history it was the moment India finally shut their opponents out of the game - and the series.
Over-rates have been a regular problem for Australia, but no matter how many times it is mentioned in team meetings or by the match referee, nothing productive has been done to fix it. So with Ponting facing a ban and the players a heavy fine, Mitchell Johnson got one over at the Pavilion End after tea before Cameron White was employed in partnership with the highly effective Jason Krejza.
White's first two overs went for 15, including a wide that cost five, and the lives of Dhoni and Harbhajan became bearable following a session of extreme stress for the hosts. Once White had no impact the medium-pace of Michael Hussey was called, and then Michael Clarke arrived. Krejza, who bowled well enough to take the fourth-best analysis of a debutant, was left stranded as the casuals could not slow India down. A tight contest swiftly became much looser.
India were as disbelieving as people watching at the ground and in homes around the world. Surely missing a game is less of a problem than losing such an important series. The former captain and current commentator Allan Border summed it up well when he said: "I'm glad Ricky can't read my mind right now, because he's not going to like it".
Tim Nielsen, the Australia coach, defended Ponting's approach. "I don't think for one second that Ricky hasn't pressed for the win," Nielsen said. "It's easy to sit up in the commentary box, or anywhere in the ground, and poke fire at the captain because of the decisions he's making out there."
On the fourth day Brett Lee, who has been struggling with nausea, delivered only ten overs while Krejza sent down 31. Still the team was in trouble despite Ponting being in regular discussions with the umpires and match referee.
"Everybody's aware of the consequences of the captain being more than six overs down at the end of the match. The captain then is put in a place where he can be suspended," Nielsen said. "We had used our fast bowlers before the tea break and had some success."
The success had mostly come from Krejza, who captured two wickets in two balls before the interval on the way to match figures of 12 for 358. "Ricky's got the responsibility to bowl the overs he has to bowl," Nielsen said. "There's no way India can come here tomorrow and bowl 20 overs because they feel we're going well. There's a responsibility for both teams, all teams, to make sure they bowl the 90 overs required in the spirit of the game."
A similar situation occurred in Perth in January when Australia, who were 278 behind, had India 160 for 6, but had to bowl Michael Clarke and Andrew Symonds in tandem to avoid more meetings with the match referee. In Perth it contributed to a 72-run loss; here it should cost them a chance to level the series.
The Australians were ill-disciplined in other ways too. Brad Haddin had given away five penalty runs for lobbing his right glove at the ball in the middle session and briefly thought it amusing. During the Dhoni-Harbhajan stand Mitchell Johnson caused four overthrows by firing at the non-striker's end after Krejza had already accepted his cap from Aleem Dar. Every run is costly in a tussle like this.
Ponting had an animated discussion with the umpire Billy Bowden, insisting it should only be one run, and more time was wasted. The captain talks to his bowlers often and works with them on meticulous fields, which have already been discussed in the team meetings.
Even with Krejza operating so often, they were still adrift of the 90-over target, which eased when India was dismissed late in the day. A few of the players are sick, adding to the listlessness, but there is no urgency until it is late in the day, when they remember to rush like they are late for trains.
There have been a lot of disruptions for both sides during the series, but so far Australia have managed to escape fines and scrape into the acceptable limits with an extra half hour's play. It hasn't been a problem for India.