There has been a bit of armchair commentary suggesting that Pat Cummins was too timid and conservative when declaring Australia’s second innings closed at the SCG.
Among the comments were suggestions from players of the past that they would have definitely declared earlier, as well as comments from others suggesting our great captains of the past would never have left the declaration so late.
To test this, let’s have a look at the declaration record of the player acknowledged as our greatest captain in the past 40 years, Mark ‘Tubby’ Taylor.
It turns out that based on Taylor’s own captaincy record, there is no guarantee he would have declared any earlier than Cummins, and in fact may even have pushed on a bit.
As captain, Taylor declared Australia’s second innings closed 12 times. One of those was a token declaration when leading by 256, leaving the other side to finish 2-80 in an inevitable draw. That leaves 11 other declarations to examine.
On those other 11 occasions, Taylor declared with a lead of less than 320 only twice (a 287 lead in Hobart in 1997 versus New Zealand and a 318 lead in Brisbane in 1997 versus New Zealand).
He declared with a lead of less than 350 only a further two times (a 339 lead in Sydney in 1996 versus the West Indies and a 347 lead in Brisbane in 1998 versus England).
These are over the ‘no one wins from there’ threshold that many like to put forward.
Unlike Cummins, on none of these occasions did Taylor declare both his first and second innings closed.
Captains who declare twice and lose tend not to be forgotten. I can only think of two captains who’ve done it without taking money from bookies: Sir Garfield Sobers and Adam Gilchrist.
On the other seven occasions when Taylor declared, he did so with leads of 387, 400, 419, 442, 452, 468, and 507.
So ‘Tubby’ was no more adventurous than any other captain and was often content to grind the opposition to dust.
I should also point out that his first five declarations as captain were all in the 350-plus territory.
So he only got a bit more adventurous after he had been captain for a long time and also after Glenn McGrath emerged to accompany Shane Warne and give the captain absolute confidence in his bowling attack.
So let’s cut Cummins some slack. No way was he going to risk declaring twice and losing in his third ever Test in charge.