A Test that seemed destined to a draw at tea ended with Anil Kumble bowling seam-up with nine men close in as India strove to beat fading light and pick up the three Pakistan wickets that would have given them a 2-0 series win. They failed to pick up those wickets when Pakistan were offered the light with 11 overs left in the day. The immediate, and thoroughly appropriate, reaction would be to commend India and Kumble on a spectacular sprint for victory in the final session. A more considered opinion would be that Kumble the captain let down Kumble the bowler by leaving the declaration too late.
The timing of the declaration will have its share of supporters and detractors. Those in favour will echo Kumble, who said India "had to get to a situation where we could absolutely ensure a series victory." India were, after all, defending a 1-0 lead and were justified in wanting to shut the door completely. Another argument is that the poor light was unforeseen and, but for it, they would probably have comfortably picked up those last three wickets given the speed with which the first seven fell.
Convincing, but not as emphatic as the counter to those arguments. India's lead was 310 by lunch and the probability of Pakistan chasing a target of such magnitude, on a pitch where the bounce was getting lower by the over, was almost zero. Importantly, had the declaration come ten overs earlier, at the cost of 35-40 runs to the target, India would have had a buffer against the weather. The timing of the eventual declaration, little more than an hour after lunch, leaving Pakistan 374 to chase and 48 overs to save the Test, betrayed a defensive mindset.
It was the second time this year that India settled for 1-0 when a little more aggression and confidence would have secured a 2-0 scoreline. At The Oval in August, India left the declaration until an hour after tea on the fourth day, when they had accumulated a lead of 500, after having earlier decided not to enforce the follow-on. England finished the fifth day 131 short of their target with four wickets in hand.
This aversion to risk becomes more significant in the context of India's next opponents. What if India are faced with a similar situation on the final day of the first Test in Melbourne in December? Will they sit back and ensure the match is completely safe first and give themselves a smaller chance of bowling out Australia? Or will they be brave and back themselves to overcome the challenge? Australia cannot be beaten by playing conservative cricket and the clever gamble could be the difference between a draw and a win.
Kumble the bowler was outstanding in the final session. Pakistan went in to tea at 23 for no loss. After tea, he discarded his legbreaks and resorted to bowling seam-up, a masterstroke on such a wicket. "Yes, it was planned before I went out," Kumble revealed. "There was no spin or bounce on the wicket and the only way to get people out was through balls that kept low and you had to bowl a bit quicker so that the batsmen didn't have enough time to adjust."
When Kumble brought Yuvraj Singh into the attack, replacing Harbhajan, with seven wickets to get it appeared that India were running out of options. However, Yuvraj's left-arm spin and his arm-ball made for a deadly combination on the track. The fields employed created immense pressure on the batsmen for it told them that the runs they scored and the boundaries they hit mattered not a jot.
"In hindsight I probably should have bowled medium-pace in the first innings," Kumble said. In hindsight too, he should have perhaps backed himself, and the rest of the bowlers, and declared earlier.