Wristy flicks, slippery fingers, and a moral dilemma
Sydney does amazing things to VVS Laxman, who reached his peak with 18 runs off five Mitchell Johnson deliveries. Once Rahul Dravid collected a leg-bye from the opening ball of the over, Laxman struck two fours through cover, picked up two runs off the back foot, crunched a half-volley to the boundary and finished with a flick to the rope at square leg. By the end of the day he had added 109 to his ground collection of 7, 167 and 178.
All stand for Dravid the snail
A few moments after tea, Rahul Dravid received the sort of ovation that is usually reserved for a special hundred. He was on 18 for 40 balls and the crowd decided it was time to egg him on to get to 19. The first ten deliveries he received following the break had the crowd glued to the action, with them cheering as if he was on 99 and sighing when he left or blocked. Finally he pushed towards extra cover and brought up a single, prompting more raucous applause. Dravid sportingly raised his bat to prolong the ironic ovation.
True to his word
Ricky Ponting has been intent on umpires around the world taking the fielders' word on low catches, but the rest of the international captains don't want to go along with him. Ponting did his bit, though, after taking a low chance off Dravid when he made it clear that he wasn't sure if it was out. It was a fine gesture in a match that has been marred by poor decision-making from the officials. But why didn't he walk when he edged to Mahendra Singh Dhoni on the first day? And shouldn't the same policy apply for both aspects? It's an interesting moral dilemma.
The umpires were the centre of attention before Laxman started to wow. A stumping appeal against Andrew Symonds, which could have been given out, was not referred to the third official by Steve Bucknor and Laxman survived an lbw shout from Brett Lee. Lee's delivery was moving in and, according to Hawk-Eye, heading towards leg stump, but Mark Benson was not convinced. An on-message Bucknor did call for a replay when Dravid drove to Michael Hussey in the gully and a not-out decision was correctly given.
After his strong performance in Melbourne, Adam Gilchrist had a poor afternoon, missing two comfortable chances and one impossible one. Dravid edged Stuart Clark down the legside on 18 and Gilchrist made the ground easily, but was unable to accept a take he would consider easy. Another opportunity to bring up his 400th dismissal was missed in the over after tea when his footwork let him down and he went one-handed at a Laxman edge. Gilchrist was almost Superman when he managed to get a glove on an attempted pull from Laxman, but he could only deflect it on the way to the boundary.
Brad Hogg wasn't used until the 42nd over and after tea the crowd tired of waiting for their new hero, who won them with 79 on day one. "Hoggy, Hoggy", they chanted as they waited for him to be employed and roared whenever he fielded the ball. The attention continued and he repaid the support with the wicket of Laxman.
Here comes the over-stepper
Laxman's punishment of Johnson came after another costly error caused by a no-ball. For the second time in two Tests, Johnson forced a Dravid edge only for the umpire's correct call to disrupt the celebrations. Ponting had taken the catch at second slip and both the bowler and fielder were furious.
Choosing the best of Laxman's incredible shots was actually pretty easy. Symonds, who was bowling gentle outswingers, was operating to a crowded off-side field and doing a good job of restricting the scoring, but it wasn't enough to control Laxman. Shortly before tea, with a maiden likely, Laxman calmly flicked his wrists, striking the fifth delivery of the over from outside off stump wide of mid-on. In an afternoon of fine strokes, it was the most breathtaking.