After morning toil, happy hours
It seemed impossible that Laxman and Dravid were playing the same opposition on the same track. K Murali reports.cricket Updated: Jan 04, 2008 04:03 IST
On Wednesday evening, the Indian players told each other that they had to put the day’s dramatic events — the umpiring blunders and Australia’s lower order fightback — behind them whenever they went out to bat on Thursday.
“Things that had happened, had happened,” a player told the Hindustan Times. “We knew we had to look ahead.”
Sitting on the sidelines and watching Australia dominate almost every day of the series this far — physically and mentally, on the field and off it — it was difficult to believe that India would be able to put that traumatic day behind them.
Incredibly though, they did, despite being put to the sword by Australian this morning. Australia continued from where they’d left off and the lower order proved that no Australian, batsman or bowler, would give his away wicket cheaply.
They made India work hard for the remaining wickets and, in the bargain, added 87 runs (Symonds remaining unbeaten on 162), before the innings was wrapped up at 12:08pm local time.
Essential to win this day
Usually the second day of a Test match is never a make-or-break day. Because, more often than not, two first innings are far from finished by then. But given the way the Indians twice capitulated in the previous game, this day became critical. So, India would be very happy that for only the second time in the series, honours were more or less shared at the end of a day’s play. Having seen the Australian bowlers bat without any discomfort probably reassured the Indians immeasurably. So all they really needed to do was focus, be patient and the runs would flow.
Patience and impatience
But they didn’t get the start they wanted as Jaffer, for the third consecutive innings, looked out of depth against the Aussies - superbly yorked by Lee for 3.
Meanwhile, at the other end, Dravid obviously wasn’t willing to change his plans from the previous game even after the criticism he got. He went about his batting in pretty much the same manner, occupying the crease for long hours and waiting for the loose balls to score off. As the Australians weren’t going to give him any easily, his individual score moved at a snail’s pace.
The good part about his innings though, was that he stuck it out. It was painful to watch far too often but it was also an exhibition in grit. And then, at the other end, was Laxman, who began hitting the ball from the middle straightaway, as if he had a net session before walking on to the field.
Laxman timed the ball beautifully, as he always does when on song, and was hitting the gaps whenever he played an aggressive shot. One over off Johnson, in which he smacked 18 runs, three through the off side and one regal flick, saw Johnson visibly flinch after the fourth boundary.
The Australians looked wary and for the first time in the series, went to a defensive field placement, even for the quick bowlers with a relatively new ball. It seemed impossible that Laxman and Dravid were playing the same opposition on the same track!
The speciality of Laxman’s batting is that when he starts hitting the ball well, it’s nearly impossible to set a field for him. He would hit the ball pitched outside the off-stump (usually defended on the front foot) towards mid-on or mid-wicket. He would rock back on a slightly short of a length ball (the kind players generally prefer defending on the back-foot) and hit it past mid-wicket or square-leg.
Getting back some space
The Australians looked under pressure and seemed like they were running out of ideas, waiting for him to make a mistake - just like the Indian bowlers looked in the morning session. Finally, he obliged, misjudging Hogg a little after he made a 127-ball century. Dravid had already perished in the previous over, after making 53 off 160 balls and India lost some of the initiative gained by this double blow.
Tendulkar and Ganguly, India’s best batsmen from the last game, took the innings till stumps with no further damage. In the final analysis, India have got the start they wanted and some runs on board. They’ve seen that runs can be scored against this attack and, given that the track is still a good one to bat on, they have to now make it big in the first innings and win the third day. Australia will undoubtedly come hard at them in the beginning and then with the second new ball, but Test cricket is about winning these phases. Will India do that on the morrow? We’ll find out.