Tendulkar and Laxman dazzle the SCG
Close India 650 for 5 (Tendulkar 220*, Laxman 178; Gillespie 3-112) v Australia
Jason Gillespie despaired as the Indian batsmen piled on the runs
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India seized the momentum early in the morning, as Laxman and Tendulkar smashed Brett Lee for seven fours in three overs to hit him out of the attack. Laxman hit five of these, with wristy flicks and elegant drives that evoked memories of the last time he played at Sydney, when he smashed a Stan McCabesque 167. Having got the day off to a blazing start, though, the batsmen then focussed on careful consolidation, playing the bowling on its merit.
Laxman's innings was all sense and sensuousness, with swathes of studied watchfulness punctuated by passages of dazzling brilliance. He caressed balls that pitched outside off through the leg side with the most delicate flicks of the wrist; he cut and drove on both front and back foot with flowing grace; and yet, there was no risk in his batting. His shotmaking was judicious, while his strokeplay was magisterial.
Sachin Tendulkar: with 220*, his highest Test score, drew level with Steve Waugh's record of 32 Test centuries
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There was little the bowlers could do. Lee was off rhythm, not getting his length right in any of his spells, bowling either too short or too full. Jason Gillespie and Nathan Bracken were accurate but never hostile, while Stuart McGill imparted a lot of spin off the pitch without ever looking likely to take a wicket. He bowled plenty of balls to Laxman on just the length outside off which had induced edges from him in his two innings at Melbourne, but there were no reflexive prods from Laxman, who got into line, watched the ball till the last possible moment and let it go if it was spinning away, as it usually was.
India did not accelerate as the last session began, which indicated that they did not intend to declare towards the end of the day, but to bat on, just as Australia had done against England at Headingley in 1993. As Gideon Haigh recounted in a recent piece in Wisden Asia Cricket, Allan Border, then captain, had famously told Steve Waugh that he wanted to "cause further mental and physical disintegration". Here, the Australians began to disintegrate after tea - at least MacGill did, dropping Tendulkar on 149 and Laxman on 177.
The second new ball finally got Australia the long awaited breakthrough, as Laxman was bowled for 178 through the gate by an incutter from Gillespie (547 for 4). Rahul Dravid had been lbw to a similar incutter the previous day, and Gillespie had a couple of lbw shouts against Tendulkar, who shrugged off these aberrant moments and moved on fluidly towards his double-century. He timed the ball beautifully in the last session, and one shot that stood out, and that he played repeatedly, was the wristy on-drive for four between midwicket and long-on.
Sourav Ganguly made an aggressive 16, off 11 balls, before being yorked by Lee (570 for 5), and then Parthiv Patel took over. Patel, astonishingly, dominated an 80-run partnership with Tendulkar, making 45 off 40 balls, including seven crisply struck boundaries. Although many of these were off MacGill and Simon Katich at the tail of the day, it showcased his potential as a batsman.
Tendulkar, meanwhile, moved on to his highest Test score, concentrating hard, running harder, all the way till the last ball of the day. It was not just the quantity of his runs that made this a career highlight; it was also the import of the occasion, with India all set up for an away series win against the best side in the world. It was, of course, the farewell Test of another modern great, wearing a baggy green cap. But Steve Waugh has never been a man for sentimentality, and he, of all people, will appreciate what India have accomplished so far.