Wednesday, October 6, 2010
The magic man comes to the party
In recent times, a few doomsayers have been questioning the future of test cricket. The general feeling is, no one would like to watch a match that takes five days to complete and even after five days, there is no guarantee of a result, but even the doomsayers who watched yesterday's game between India and Australia, would have to agree that it was a great advertisement for cricket and test cricket is alive and kicking.
A fiercely contested cricket match with two teams going hammer and tongs at each other. Ten runs to get, the umpire gives a wrong decision, the last man walks in and with six runs to get escapes a huge appeal and an overthrow helps India to get four runs before they win the match. In between, even the iceman Laxman loses his cool at the non striker Ojha for watching the ball. What more can cricket fans ask for? as until the end, it was a see-saw battle with both teams having an equal chance of winning the match.
What made yesterday's game even better was the Very Very Special cricketer Laxman played yet another stylish knock to help India win the match. At his sublime best, VVS is no doubt a sight for gods. Unlike most modern day players, Laxman just caresses the ball to the boundary and every shot he plays is a connoisseur's delight. He is also a iceman as he rarely ever loses his cool and that is the reason behind his success in adverse circumstances. His batting is hard to explain, as there would be many occasions, when it seems like he doesn't have good footwork against the quicker bowlers, but those magical wrists and the ability to see the ball early and play it late, allows him to play those silken shots and makes the bowler look very ordinary. He is so wristy that I feel like he can play four, or five shots to every ball he faces.
Now, let us rewind back in years to 99/00 at Sydney. India have just lost the wicket of the little master Tendulkar and are about million runs behind. The invincibles from Australia are as hungry as wolves and are making a mincemeat of the opposition. Cricket fans like me thought oh! this is the same old story of India depending too much on Tendulkar when playing away from home and as soon as he gets out, others would follow him back to the pavilion.
As the Indian batsmen kept falling like nine pins, a cricketer with an obscure name called Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman was still battling it out at the crease. VVS at that time had hardly made an impact and even in the second innings, McGrath was beating him for fun as he looked all at sea. Suddenly, it all changed as the great man McGrath bowled a snorter of a bouncer and Laxman fell on the ground. I don't know what happened as it seemed to have woken up a sleeping lion as after he faced that ball, it rained fours from Laxman's bat. When he pulled Lee's 90mph thunderbolts through front of square for successive boundaries my jaws-dropped as he didn't even swiddle on-to the back-foot, but pulled him more on the front-foot.
After playing that great knock at Sydney, he has gone onto play many more great knocks against the best side in the world Australia, but that knock at Sydney made the cricketing world sit up and take notice of this stylish player from India. If Punter is feeling down and out after yesterday's match, it is high time he vents his frustration by abusing Glenda for bowling that bouncer as if he hadn't bowled that bouncer, he may have been known as a Very Very Ordinary batsman instead of being known as Very Very Special Laxman. One has to always remember that before the test in Sydney, he didn't even have a century to his name, was averaging in the 20's and knowing selectors, he may have been dropped forever after that series. So, Indian fans thank McGrath for bowling that bouncer as since he bowled that bouncer, he has been a thorn in Australia's flesh.
Anyway coming back to yesterdays' knock, it was even more special because Laxman was suffering from a back problem and he came to the crease with India in a bit of strife as they were 74 for 5. It soon became worse when the little master Tendulkar got out and Dhoni soon followed him back to the pavilion. Laxman, who was looking comfortable at the crease suddenly seemed to be running out of partners, but the beanpole Sharma provided him with good support as India edged closer to the target. One could see a few tense faces among the players as well as in the crowd, but the iceman Laxman was as cool as ever and took India to a famous victory. The one shot that would be etched in my memory would be the cover drive he played of Watson. Punter had spread his field, but the magic man somehow found a gap as he caressed the ball to the boundary. Does he have a picture of the field in his brain? In simple words, when he is playing well he uses his wrists like a magic wand and the bowler has to just tear his hair in frustration. I have a feeling that instead of calling him as very very special Laxman, Australian players would call him as very very sick Laxman
I would also like to say a few words on the umpiring decisions we saw in the match and Punter's captaincy. It has to be said that the standard of umpiring in the match was poor as both Billy and Gould seemed to have forgotten the very basics of the game and gave some atrocious decisions. Now, we have to consider the fact that it is a high profile series and in a fiercely contested match, umpires can come under real pressure and can give some bad decisions. The fact though, I can't understand is why not use the technology when it is available? I would never understand the logic behind not using the UDRS for this series.
As far as Punter's captaincy is concerned, I have said it before that I am not a great fan of his captaincy and Australia won lots of matches thanks to them having a great side. Now though, Australia aren't the same force they once were and Punter's captaincy is being tested all the time. I don't think he came out with flying colours on the last day at Mohali as he made a couple of mistakes which may have cost Australia the match.
The first mistake was, he started the final day's play with Haurtiz. On a pitch with a bit of variable bounce, the quicker bowlers were doing well by bowling the odd short delivery on the fourth day, but by giving the ball to Hauritz on the final day, it allowed Tendulkar to settle down and get some useful runs. Secondly, when VVS first came to crease, he could have attacked more. As soon as VVS got a couple of fours, Punter set defensive fields and as expected, VVS got a thick edge of a fine bouncer from Bollinger and it went through the vacant slip region for a boundary. Finally, when Dhoni got out, he allowed VVS to take easy singles by spreading the field, so that he can attack Sharma at the other end. Yes, VVS was in good touch, but the best way to get a stroke-maker out is to lure him to play a shot by bringing one of the fielders up in the circle. Punter though, instead of concentrating on the big fish, took the option of removing the tail-ender at the other end which is a defensive option.
Finally, it was a privilege to watch an fiercely contested match played between two good sides. Cricket is no doubt a game full of glorious uncertainties and it is high time, the doomsayers find some other job and stop ranting about death of test cricket!