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What is 24 balls more?

In the first innings in Adelaide, India lost their last three wickets in the space of 20 balls.

In the second innings in Adelaide, India lost their last three wickets in the space of 18 balls.

In the first innings at the MCG, India lost their last three wickets in the space of 16 balls.

In the second innings at the MCG, India's last 24 balls did not get bowled.

Australia's captain Steven Smith chose not to bother. Instead, he shook the hand of his Indian counterpart MS Dhoni and walked off, happy with a draw. Content that the Border-Gavaskar Trophy was won.

Five days this Test match had been going, 2623 balls had been bowled. With a win still possible, if unlikely, Australia chose not to worry about the last 24 deliveries. The fans in the stands wondered why, why did we sit around waiting for this limp conclusion?

A lot can happen in 24 deliveries. It is a Twenty20 bowler's entire match workload. It is three balls longer than it took Misbah-ul-Haq to score the fastest fifty in Test cricket, against Australia last month.

Four overs to go. Four Indian wickets. Given the fragility of their tail, breaking the Dhoni-Ashwin partnership would have given Australia a chance of victory. A slim chance, maybe, but a chance all the same. They denied themselves that chance, happy to take a 2-0 lead to Sydney.

"I don't think there was a win still there to be honest," Smith said after play. "All our bowlers were pretty cooked and it was time to finish. There wasn't much breaking up in the wicket, there wasn't much going on. I think that was it."

It is true that the Melbourne drop-in surface was offering little assistance. And it was true that Smith's fast bowlers had worked hard. But they didn't have to bowl those last four overs.

Smith could have bowled them himself, with Nathan Lyon. Or David Warner could have sent down some leggies, if his bruised arm allowed him to. Yes, a win was unlikely, but you just never know what can happen.

Against India at the SCG seven years ago, Michael Clarke took three wickets in one over to deliver one of the most remarkable victories, in a match overshadowed by on-field and off-field spitefulness. He did it with six minutes remaining in the Test.

Here at the MCG, there were 24 balls left. Four overs that will never be bowled. Three Indian tailenders thanking their lucky stars that Smith was so generous. More than 14,000 spectators wondering why.

A lot can happen in 24 balls.