Australia v India, 2nd Test, Sydney, 2nd day January 3, 2008

Will and grace

Grit combined with flair as Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman produced India's most uplifting day in the series



Contrasting innings from VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid saw India fight back into the Test series © Getty Images
 

Chalk combined with cheese to breathe life into the series at the SCG. Within a distance of 22 yards, two batsmen employed completely opposite methods to lead India's fightback. One was an almighty struggle, the other a celebration in melody. Grit combined with flair to produce the most uplifting day of the series.

Rahul Dravid embodied India's need to fight from the trenches, to grind the opposition. VVS Laxman epitomised the batting line-up's potential, its ability to pile on runs beautifully. Neither player is new to playing with backs to the wall. While Dravid knows what it takes to play freely, Laxman understands the struggle of a player out of form.

It's been a while since Laxman has glided so smoothly. Pushed to No.6, he's often had to shelve his natural style in favour of graft. For a couple of years, he's preferred the mallet to the paintbrush. The SCG, though, has been his favourite canvas, where six visits have produced four hundreds. Sydneysiders have been privileged to see three Test centuries, each a masterpiece embellished with boundaries. They are innings that have come with the awe-inspiring quality of the Harbour Bridge and the soothing powers of the Opera House.

Today, a peacock had realised it could fly. Wings spread, colours exposed, he took off and invited his team to join him. The MCG had seen India being suffocated; here he calmly opened the valve. It was the sort of innings that India needed, a bold statement of aggression and intent.

Laxman explored his entire range but the shot this innings might be remembered by is the cover drive, those crisp, velvety caresses. It was like counting brand-new currency notes, so crunchily did the ball race off the bat. Sometimes there were two extra covers, a short mid-off, and a point but the gaps were simply too large. Mitchell Johnson bowled three identical deliveries to see two caressed through cover and the third flicked square. It seemed he had 180 options in front of him, each for the degree of the arc he was operating in.

Twenty-two yards away was Dravid, playing out an innings in a parallel universe. Stuck in a rut, he needed all the powers of concentration to hang in there. He was beaten, dropped, and caught off a no-ball. Dot balls piled up, the bowlers turned tormentors, the crowd did its bit to get involved. Here was a sculptor with a broken chisel.

Johnson, who appeared like a novice while bowling from the Paddington End, was more like a legend at the Randwick End. Stuart Clark was McGrath here and McIntyre there. Dravid's pushes found fielders. Ricky Ponting's field setting worked like magic from one end. Had Johnson not overstepped, Dravid might have made only 15; had Gilchrist not experienced such a poor day, he might have been out for 18; and had Ponting not expressed doubt over a low catch, he might have ended on 47.

He spent 46 minutes on 18 and heard the crowd sigh, then boo,with every dot. The next run he scored offered him more relief than a half-century. His best shot, a cover-drive on the up, took him from 48 to 52. Two balls later he was gone. Flaying the bat in anger he walked back briskly. Dropping the glove on the way disturbed the pace a bit but he muttered beneath his breath all the way back.

One of his most tedious knocks was acknowledged with a standing ovation. In the context of the match and series, he had played a vital hand. Normally the cheers for Dravid leaving and Sachin Tendulkar entering merge but there was a little silence that separated the two here. Considering the value of the knock, it was fitting. Six balls on, Laxman fell too. Forces of nature seemed to be saying, 'It's either both or neither'.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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