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Challenging declaration, indeed!

MARK Taylor's declaration in the first Test, setting England a target of 348 in around 97 overs, has been termed a challenging one by many. I think he goofed it up again as he did against Pakistan.

Taylor was fully aware of the weather pattern in Brisbane at this time of the year. He knew that the probability of some or a lot of play being lost to rain existed. Why did he not declare about 50 runs earlier and give his bowlers more time to get England out?

Simple. He took the safe option -- declaring when the target was beyond anything which England would even remotely have attempted. In short, it was anything but challenging; England never even considered going for it, but began the battle for survival right away.

There are other reasons why Taylor should have declared earlier. England had only six specialist batsmen and the quality of their last five had been in evidence in the first innings. The pitch was sure to afford some assistance to Stuart MacGill; maybe not turning square, but certainly a better s urface for the leggie to bowl on compared to day three or four. And, last but not least, Australia had gained a psychological advantage over England after the disastrous collapse from 299 for four to 375 to all out.

With all these factors in his favour, Taylor chose a safe, secure declaration. I don't dispute that he has been a good captain. But can anyone recall when he has made a challenging declaration, giving his opposition a target which was at least remotely obtainable? The only thing that can be said in his favour that he did not do as many an Indian captain would have done -- bored people to death by indulging in "batting practice" for the rest of the series. That is one extreme. The other is the kind of declaration that Gary Sobers made in 1968 against Englan d.

One is not asking a captain to commit suicide by throwing a Test away. But it does appear that all the speculation doing the rounds about Taylor's longevity has affected his ability to take even the smallest risk. That is a pity for any good captain must have that abili ty. He should be able to judge to a nicety what is possible and what is not, what length of time is needed to get a team out taking into account all known factors. Else, any claim to being the best skipper around would remain just that -- a claim.