India v Australia in a two Test match series. It"s the Border – Gavaskar Trophy and it"s the world ranked no. 1 team against a former no. 1 ranked team. Two Test matches seem too little, but that"s the way it is. Mohali, the venue for the first of the two games – was the stage where one hoped drama would unfold.
With scores of 400 and more for both sides in their first innings, the general feeling was that this would be another drawn Test. The non believers had started chatter about the futility of Test matches, and how pointless they were. That"s the normal spiel that is so common these days. Very few seem to believe in the essence of the original format. And sadly shallowness seems to be the order of the day in the world that we live in.
Day four saw the Test take an interesting shape. The visitors commenced their second innings in positive fashion. An eighty seven run opening stand put the Australians in a strong situation to consolidate. But the beauty of Test cricket is that it is played session to session. So session one on the fourth day belonged to the Australians where 100 runs were scored and 3 wickets lost. Session two went India"s way when 3 more wickets were captured and 65 runs scored. But it was the third session on the fourth day that had the most dramatic twists and turns. The visitors were bundled out for 192 and India had a positively uneasy start, ending the day on 55 for the loss of 4 wickets. They needed 216 to win the match.
Ofcourse the pessimists foretold the end of the Indian innings by lunch the next day, and some said that there was no way that India could win. But the eternal optimists believed in the team right to the end. When Sachin played a strangely aggressive shot, knowing the task in hand, one could not help but think that a legend he may be, but a solid character, for sure not. With Sachin gone, one pinned one"s hopes entirely on the back spasm affected VVS Laxman. The optimist as always hoped for a solid partnership between MS Dhoni and Laxman but confusion prevailed as the runner Raina and Dhoni had a misunderstanding and Dhoni ran himself out. Not a great Test match for the skipper for sure. But that special man Laxman stood solidly behind the cause and remained focused despite wickets falling at the other end. And then when the gangly Ishant Sharma arrived, not even the brightest optimist could see what was to come. Ishant Sharma ably supported the stylish Hyderabadi, and India was beginning to sniff a Test victory. Ishant played a fine knock and under the circumstances one that spoke highly of his resilience. But then one dodgy decision from the English Umpire Ian Gould snuffed out the fragrance. An unthinkable 9th wicket stand of 81 between Laxman and Ishant came to and end. Life seemed so cruel just then. A million curses were sent out damning the umpire and his decision. The last person to join the warrior like Laxman at the crease was Pragyan Ojha. He must have been nervous and as he faced deliveries from the Aussie pacers many hearts skipped a beat.
With just 11 runs needed to get and one wicket in hand it was all down to VVS Laxman and Ojha and the runner man in Suresh Raina. Often one could see Laxman gesturing vehemently to the other two. Egging on runs and reprimanding foolish shots or run calls. All in all it made for endearing drama.
Agonisingly close in the end with much drama. A possible lbw decision but the die hard fans did hear that inside edge! A very near run out and a very angry VVS Laxman. It was in retrospect most amusing. Finally the winning runs came off two leg byes and the three Indian men in the middle of the pitch embraced and exulted in pure joy. The optimists who never lost faith were delirious; the doubters suddenly knew all along that India would win.
India had won the Test match and that was all that mattered. Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman did it again for the country and with a heroic innings from young Ishant Sharma and a positive level of doggedness from Pragyan Ojha, the win was possible.
All in all this was a superb example for why Test cricket makes the most sense. Every day is taken session by session and sometimes in the end the unforeseeable happens. The variants may have their benefits too, but one can say with total conviction that there"s nothing like a Test match win and a win that"s so excruciatingly close.
The bowlers from both sides shone and the batters had cameo innings. This was a Test match that most would etch in the memory of their cricketing diaries.
Ricky Ponting said it all when he confessed that this was one of the best Test matches that he had played and gave full credit to India for winning it. He added that his side would only take the positives out of this Test match, and there were plenty of those. And lastly he applauded the 9th wicket stand between Ishant and Laxman that made all the difference.
MS Dhoni applauded the amazing batsman who once again showed so much character. VVS Laxman he felt knew just how to rotate the strike and keep the scoreboard ticking. And in one word to his skipper, Laxman was indeed very 'special".
This the 1972nd Test match will go down in the books of Indian Cricket ( read Test Cricket) aficionados", as one Very Very Special Test.