The dangers of delaying the declaration

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It is often better for the side which is batting third and has to make a declaration to be bowled out. This prevents the captain from having to make the decision when so often, from an unreasonable fear of defeat, he decides to bat on and waste invaluable time which can cost him victory.

Only two sides have scored more than 400 in the fourth innings to win a Test match - India made 406 for 4 to beat the West Indies at Port of Spain in 1975-76 and Australia made 404 for 3 to beat England at Headingley in 1948. The next highest after that was Australia's 362 for 7 against the West Indies at Georgetown in 1968-69.

Historically, therefore, the odds against England scoring more runs than any side has ever made in the fourth innings to win a Test match, on a very slow, worn Lord's pitch, are enormous. Wasim Akram is to be congratulated for striding off in the middle of the last over before tea.

The object of a declaration is to give the side making it a better chance of winning the match. Yet so often captains ruin this chance by delaying the declaration for too long and not allowing their bowlers enough time to dismiss the opposition.

The best hope of victory so often comes from giving the opposition a chance of winning themselves and then of balancing things by giving them runs if necessary in order to keep them interested in the chase even though they may be losing wickets. This requires delicate judgement.

These days sides tend to be captained by consensus and that by its nature counts against taking risks. In other times, when captains felt that they were more independent and they had the confidence to make their own decisions, more were prepared to take a chance.

If the president-elect of MCC, Colin Ingleby-Mackenzie, had been a cautious declarer, Hampshire would never have won their first county championship title in 1961.

However, the declaration which probably did more to make captains think three times before making a chancy closure, was made by the West Indies captain, Gary Sobers, against England at Port of Spain in 1967-68.

In one of the most exciting of all Test series, Sobers, who allegedly heard his team manager, Everton Weekes, say that it only required 10 balls to win the match, asked Colin Cowdrey's side to score 215 in 165 minutes - although one of his own fast bowlers, Charlie Griffith, was unfit to bowl.

Cowdrey had, one gathers, to be persuaded by some of his players to go for the target, but Geoff Boycott and Cowdrey himself saw them home with three minutes to spare.

In some partisan places Sobers, who was the fairest of cricketers, has still not been forgiven.