India v Australia, 2nd Test, Chennai, 4th day October 17, 2004

Elegant defiance

Damien Martyn has made a habit of rescuing his team from dire situations © Getty Images

You don't usually equate languid elegance with rearguard actions, but Damien Martyn - Amazing Grace in flannels when on his game - has made raising the Titanic something of a habit in recent times. In Sri Lanka last March, he made 110 and 161 at Galle and Kandy, superb anchoring efforts that helped Australia win games where they had conceded first-innings leads of 161 and 91.

Martyn was once the Michael Clarke of his generation, a prodigious talent fast-tracked into the team for a series against the West Indies when he was only 21. But after being cruelly made the scapegoat for the debacle at the SCG against a Fanie de Villiers-inspired South Africa in January 1994 - it was only his seventh Test - he spent 74 months on the outside, as the baggy green cap grew musty from lack of exposure.

On his return, he was a changed man. The record-book may show that Australia won the series 3-0 on their tour of New Zealand in 1999-2000 but it won't reveal just how close the matches were. Having made an accomplished 78 in the second Test at Wellington, he produced a stunning unbeaten 89 at Hamilton after Australia had stumbled to 29 for 5 on a pitch where the quick bowlers were getting extravagant movement. His innings, coupled with Adam Gilchrist's blazing 75, made all the difference.

A year later, he had his halcyon year, scoring two magnificent hundreds in the Ashes series, and then punishing South Africa to the tune of three centuries, home and away, in the biggest World Championship-mismatch of recent times. But thereafter he retreated into a phase where he reeled off classy 30s and 40s without kicking on to something more substantial.

By the time the team arrived in Sri Lanka seven months ago, he was perilously close to the door of the Last Chance Saloon. But those two efforts, gritty rather than pretty, cemented his slot in the middle order, especially with Steve Waugh having become a fond memory.

Though he never quite opened out as he can this afternoon, Martyn drove, cut and pulled with the élan that his admirers have come to expect. Like almost every batsman who has played a lot of cricket on the fast and bouncy WACA pitch, he plays the square-of-the-wicket shots with panache. But allied to that is a suppleness of wrist and a fluidity when driving the ball which is more redolent of the Asian masters.

Kumble, India's bowling master, bowled 32 overs over the three sessions, on a day that the Indians will remember for rivers of sweat, aching feet and leaden shoulders. He and Harbhajan Singh toiled tirelessly on a surface that appeared to be easier for batting than it had been on days one and two, and neither was helped by the wicketkeeping of Parthiv Patel, who fluffed two stumpings and messed up countless other takes.

You could plead extreme heat and humidity, not to mention the puffs of dust, as mitigating causes, but there's a drastic problem when someone with the experience of 18 Tests behind him can't even get his gloves to the ball, forget catching it. Few would dispute that Patel has an international future, but for the moment, he looks as lost as an extra who wandered into the movie's climactic scene at the wrong time.

India must not let the weight of history crush them though. While it's true that no team has successfully overhauled more than 155 to win a Test at Chepauk, they can draw plenty of inspiration from what happened at Adelaide last December when they chased down 230 on a surface that had a reputation as a graveyard for fourth-innings pursuits.

As for Martyn, he will hope that history reverses itself. At Sydney all those years ago, Shane Warne took 12 wickets in the match - one less than the indefatigable Kumble in this game - but his team fell five runs short. If Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie or Michael Kasprowicz can reprise de Villiers' feat, there won't be a more contented man in this city of several million.

Dileep Premachandran is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.