Laxman saved India from humiliation

Written by: Sunil Gavaskar
Published: Tuesday, January 4, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
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V V S Laxman's delightful century under difficult circumstances saved India from total humiliation in the last test of the series. At one stage with four of the top batsmen out with barely one hundred on the board it appeared that India would be bowled out for less than their first innings score but his brave stroke-filled innings brought some cheer to a team that has looked generally inadequate in all departments of the game. A test match is supposed to be exactly that, a test of skills but as the series has progressed it has looked more like an opportunity for the Australians to boost their career aggregates than a test between two international teams. If the Indian batting performance was disappointing the fielding would have looked poor even in a school game. Test match runs are usually hard earned but not on the evidence of the Indian fielding it was easy pickings for the Australian batsmen.

Sure Langer and Ponting batted superbly and their running between the wickets was swift but there were so many midfields that it was embarrassing to watch. The batsmen were stealing singles from under the noses of the fielders and the sluggish way the fielders moved meant that there was no element of risk involved in taking them. What was appalling was that this is aside of youngsters and yet there seemed to be no energy on the field. A young side brings about an enthusiastic attitude on the field which makes up for the lack of experience but the lethargic movements of the fielders belied even those expectations. That lazy work ethic was later seen in the running between the wickets as twos were taken where the Aussies had run three and ones taken when two were on offer. Agility and athleticism are not the chief attributes of this side and modern cricket demands that more than anything else. Determination and application were also in sort supply and just as runs were gifted to the Aussies so also were the wickets.

Langer and Ponting continued their assault on the bowlers and there was an air of resignation about the Indians as soon the first half an hour had passed. Even Srinath who had really bent his back in the efforts to break through seemed to have given up and that doughty fighter Kumble too ran out of ideas. Tendulkar had to bring himself on to bowl and in his first over he got the wicket of Langer who went for an ambitious hit and was nicely caught by Prasad who had had a hard time on the field earlier. Gilchrist and Ponting did not give them any respite and the closure was applied by Waugh after a lead of just over 400.

The batting of Langer who has a limited range of shots and of Ponting and Gilchrist who are far more adventurous should have given encouragement to the Indians that the pitch was a beauty to bat on and they should make the Australians pay at least a little bit for sending them on a leather-hunt but instead it looked as if the Indians were looking to go home early. It was never going to be easy for Prasad to open the batting after having kept wickets for so long and in any case he does not have the technique of an opening batsman and he perished to another hang the bat outside the off-stump dismissal making one wonder at the wisdom of going into a test match against an opponent whose main strength is pace and swing.

Before this blazing innings Laxman had not looked a player capable of big scores in test cricket. His earlier dismissals in not just this series but in the matches he has played had shown a technical flaw which had been exploited by bowlers. While the big back lift is still there and the footwork needs a lot of work this knock should make him believe in himself more for after all international cricket is about temperament and he has given the impression that he has not always thought he fitted in this company. Some of his on side shots were reminiscent of his hero Mohammad Azharuddin and indeed Azhar himself would have been proud to have played some of the shots Laxman executed.

Unfortunately he had no support till the very end when Kumble who has batted so sensibly throughout the series joined him. Rahul Dravid was the disappointment of the series and what was worrying was his lack of judgement of where his off-stump was. It led to him playing at deliveries he should have left alone at least at the start of his innings. With that solidity missing at one end like Justin Langer provided to the Australian team the other stroke players in the team came into bat when the bowlers were still fresh and with a ball that was hard and shiny. On the pitches that had extra bounce they couldn't play their shots straightaway as they do in India and the forcing strokes off the backfoot that get them boundaries in India through the covers were going as catches to the slip cordon. Sadly they also showed little patience to get used to the pace and bounce and succumbed to the nagging line that the Aussies bowled around their off stump.

Losing to this Australian side is no disgrace but the Indians certainly did no justice to their talent and it truly will be a Herculean task for the team management to lift their morale which must be at an all-time low. Laxman's sparkling innings will no doubt lift some of that despairing feeling and the advent of fighters like Robin Singh and Nikhil Chopra will also help in making the Indian team a more competitive unit than it has been in the test series.

Professional Management Group

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