Though Australia were comfortably clear in the World Test Championship standings at the time, Australia's coach Justin Langer has admitted to a feeling of dread when his side dropped four points due to a penalty for slow over rates during the Boxing Day Test against India - ultimately all that separated the team from a place in the final later this year.
While Tim Paine's side won only two of the four series it contested over the period of the WTC, while also having away series against Bangladesh and South Africa cancelled due to complications around Covid-19, they would have claimed enough points over matches played to squeak past New Zealand into second place behind India if not for being docked the four points at the conclusion of the MCG loss.
Langer claimed that the team had no idea they were behind the required over rate by enough of a margin to incur a penalty until after the Test concluded, despite regular updates always being provided by match officials. In 2008, Australia's then captain Ricky Ponting resorted to bowling part-timers at a critical moment of a Test match in Nagpur when there were concerns the team's over rate had sagged to a level at which he may well have been suspended under the disciplinary system in use by the ICC at the time.
"Our manager Gavin Dovey had gone home ... for Christmas with his family in England, and it wasn't until after the game that we realised our over rate was down," Langer told SEN Radio. "That's really slack on our behalf, but I remember we were in the team room afterwards and I spoke to Painey and Dene Hills, our analyst, about it. I was a bit grumpy about it and I thought 'imagine if this cost us the World Test Championship'.
"And I mentioned it to the players afterwards that two overs down could cost us the World Test Championship. And so, we have to get better at that and make sure it doesn't happen in Sydney and Brisbane. It didn't, but we also couldn't bowl out India twice and we didn't make enough runs. It was relevant at the time, and it certainly became incredibly significant over the weekend."
At the start of his reign as coach in 2018, Langer had coined the phrase "From Lille to Lord's", in reference to a tenure that had begun with a commemorative trip to the battlefields of the Western Front and took in a couple of chances to play finals at the home of cricket: the 2019 World Cup final and this year's WTC final, albeit before it was moved to Southampton's Ageas Bowl.
"It's disappointing for a couple of reasons - one we didn't get to play in South Africa to have another crack at it after the India series and is it's disappointing for me because this Test Championship goes over a couple of years, we were in the box seat for a lot of it," Langer said.
"We've played some great cricket. Losing to India at home that was really disappointing, but…we got docked two [four] points for a slow over rate, and that cost us. That's how close it was and how often do you get docked points in Test cricket these days? Rarely. We have that in our control, that's an attitudinal thing, at the time we probably thought 'oh it's not that big a deal', but that cost us the WTC after what had been two really good years when we were ranked No. 1 again. The things we can control we have to control, and we can't for a second relax in Test cricket."
After Australia's white-ball squad returned home from a 3-2 T20I series defeat in New Zealand that he sat out, Langer expressed approval for Glenn Maxwell's recently stated desire to put himself back into Test match contention given the multiple Test series looming for the national team in Asia over the next two years.
"I'm absolutely supportive of that," Langer said. "We know how destructive he can be. We're always looking for greater consistency from Maxy and all of our players, but he's so destructive and so talented and a gun fielder.
"I'd love that energy in the field. For example, I think we dropped 16 catches in this Test series, things that are in our control like the over rate, and they're areas we want to keep getting better at because otherwise the old 'catches win matches' costs you. Glenn Maxwell's fielding, he bowls handy offspinners, absolutely we would encourage him to get amongst it. I'd like to see all our star players playing. It would be good for Glenn Maxwell, but it would be great for domestic cricket.
"You imagine young bowlers bowling against a hungry Glenn Maxwell who wants to push to play Test cricket in the future. He'll be hungry, I'd love to see [Aaron] Finch play as well. I'd love to see all those guys play because never underestimate the benefit for young players, within your team and the opposition, playing against the best players. But that's going to be a decision for Victoria and I'll watch that really closely."
It remains to be seen whether Maxwell will be included in the Victorian squad for their coming bracket of Sheffield Shield matches ahead of his next stint in the IPL.