Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Laxman's heroics at Sydney

In another blast from the past, I would like to have a look at Laxman's splendid knock at Sydney in 99/00. Everyone knows that Lax. has scored heavily against a champion team like Australia and his epic knock of 281 at Kolkata would be talked forever, but in 99 it was different as Lax wasn't sure about his place in the side as he was struggling as a opener. During that time as India lacked good openers, the management would send Laxman to open the batting and he was never going to be good as a opener so, he struggled a bit at that position. However, his knock of 167 at Sydney in 99/00 changed it all as it made the cricketing world to take notice of this wonderfully gifted cricketer from India. It also made the Aussies aware that even in the future he would likely trouble them.

If I look back at the match, it was played on a Sydney track that was quite similar to the track on which Pakistan played Australia last year. Lots of rain around meant that there was moisture in the wicket and there was grass on the pitch. In that context, it was really surprising that Tendulkar chose to bat first. The Indian team had already lost the series as they had lost the first two matches yet, they could have given Australia a run for their money in the final test, but Tendulkar surprised everyone by electing to bat first and that too with a certain McGrath in the opposition ranks to take advantage of the helpful conditions on offer.

As expected, India lost early wickets and Tendulkar again seemed to be the only man who could play McGrath and co. He played McGrath and co. with aplomb as he showed his full range of shots before he got out to a bad decision. As soon as he got out, batting on that wicket again looked difficult as India were bundled out for just 150. McGrath had another five wicket haul, but a five wicket haul always seemed like a child's play for McGrath. Indian management may have been left ruing about the decision to bat first.

Australia couldn't bat on the first day as rain again played spoilsport, but when they got the chance to bat on the second day, the sun began to make its presence felt and that made Indian camp's decision to bat first look even more foolish. India's best seamer in the 90's, Srinath though got a early breakthrough and after playing a steady knock, the younger Waugh got out to a straight delivery from Ganguly. Langer and Ponting though, took the match away from India's grasp by getting big hundreds. I saw a bit of Langer's knock in highlights and I reckon he could have been out about 10 times and I'm not exaggerating lol! Sri bowled him of a no ball, but that wasn't the end of the story as Sri continued to have no luck throughout the day. Tendulkar in that match seemed to be following the ball as he would change the slip cordon as soon as the ball would go through that area. Unfortunately for Tendulkar and the luckless Sri, every time he made a change in the slip cordon, it would go through the gap for a four. It happened so many times and that too of the same bowler, it may have even made Sri think why did he become a bowler?? The only consolation for Sri was if I remember correctly he did hit Langer on his helmet, but his figures of 2 for 105 just didn't do any justice to how well he bowled in that innings.

Australia made 552 in the first innings and with a lead of over 400 runs, India were staring down the barrel. Yes, compared to the first day's pitch, it had eased out a bit yet, there was some help in pitch for the quicker bowlers and with the Indian team depending too much on Tendulkar during that tour, it looked like a lost cause. It became worse as Tendulkar for once got out cheaply and India were tottering at 33 for 3. It was at that time Laxman stepped up to the plate and played an outstanding knock. It all started because McGrath bowled a bouncer and smashed Laxman on his helmet as the crowd started hooting and applauding. As I said, Laxman at that time was struggling to come to grips with opening the batting, but the bouncer bowled by McGrath and the crowd just seemed to have woken up a sleeping tiger as after that blow on his helmet at most he may have played a couple of false shots, but most of the deliveries Australia bowled hit the middle of his bat and just raced to the boundary. At the other end, wickets kept falling, but when the Aussie bowlers were bowling to Lax. it was a different story altogether.

At his best, Laxman's balance is always so good. He doesn't play with much footwork, but his wrist work and balance makes him a very hard batsman to bowl to. I do remember a few pull shots that he played of Lee which made my jaws drop as he smashed it to the boundary on front of the wicket of a tearaway quick like Lee. He seemed to be going after mainly Lee as he got smashed for 52 runs in a spell of 5 overs! His ability to find gaps with ease by using his wrists could be seen by everyone as whatever defensive fields Steve would set, Laxman was still able to pierce the gap and find the boundary. The majestic flick was in full force too. He was batting in a league of his own and that made Steve to even give the ball to pert-timers like Ponting and Slater!

Laxman reached his century of just 114 balls and those days scoring at a rate of around 100 was unheard of in test cricket and the opposition had bowlers like McGrath, Warne, Lee and Fleming. His innings finally came to an end as he got out for 167 of just 198 balls. Lee got his wicket, but it was Laxman who got a thunderous applause from the crowd for playing one of the best knocks against quick bowling in recent times. As expected, once he got out, Australia wrapped up the match by getting the tailenders out in no time, but if I have to remember that test, it would be for Laxman's fantabulous knock.

Laxman may have played knocks which were more elegant to watch like his 281 against the same opposition in the famous test at Kolkata, but this knock of 167 showed how talented he was and some of the strokes he played in that knock still amazes me.

Actually, India may to thank Lee for producing that bouncer that hit Lax. on his helmet as otherwise, we may have never seen him at his best. He would have been dropped for sure as he had a bad time in Australia before he played that blistering knock at Sydney.

It is no doubt one of the best knocks I have seen as I have rarely seen batsmen playing the likes of McGrath and co. with such authority as Laxman did in that knock.

The video isn't of great quality and a few of the pull shots he played of Lee are missing still one can watch some fine shots played by Lax.


Suhas said...

Great account of an unjustly forgotten knock, greyblazer. I remember Lee actually coming up to Laxman and shaking his hand after dismissing him. It was almost as if Laxman wanted to send a message to his teammates on how to take on the Aussies. VVS was actually dropped after just one more test in the opening position (against South Africa). Thank god the selectors realised their mistake the following winter!

That 167 and the batting of Sachin were probably the only moments of positive cricket from India on that tour. I remember reading then that the decision to bat first was because they didn't want to face Warne (who had a poor record against india) on a turning wicket on the final day! Dark days indeed.

greyblazer said...

Thanks, the selectors can be mad but if VVS had not scored that 167 he may have been dropped forever lol.

So the management decided that it was harder to face spin and that too with Indian players being good against spin than to face the new ball on the first day with sideways movement around lol.