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

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Sham on January 5, 2008, 16:13 GMT

    The good batting by Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar and also Ganguly helped India register a good score in first innings. Was wondering is it not good to send batsmen in form opening like Tendulkar or Ganguly who open in one days and not make Dravid sacrifice his position of three down where he is brilliant.

  • Vinay on January 4, 2008, 5:22 GMT

    Dear Sid V,

    You've brought romance back to cricket and cricket journalism. It is an absolute pleasure reading your work that you compile with the grace of a Laxman cover drive. It is not uncommon for me to have goosebumps reading you. This article had the right dosage of lyrical panache.

    Thanks a lot, keep up the good work and please,don't get carried away.

    Your greatest fan, VinChi

  • Prabhu on January 4, 2008, 5:13 GMT

    Well done siddarth... My search of words for VVS_ Wall innings comes to an end with your article. I certainly agree with you the quality defined by both these batsmen in contrast.

    A special appreciation from my side to wall, because of his option to open made VVS to come at his favourite position of No:3. More than the technic, Wall believed in his mental strength at a time when his timing and placement came under dark clouds. Hope, this gives confident to our players to look positive in the coming days against the best eleven in the world.

  • k on January 4, 2008, 4:41 GMT

    Good point made by DadRao that umpiring errors go unpunished. Why does not the ICC bring in the rule that glaring errors made by umpires should be punished with deduction of their match fees like the players and also suspended from umpiring next series. This should make them more alert and avoid the howlers they made in the case of Symonds. The Third umpire (Australian) who gave Symonds not out on the stumping should be banned for such a blatant 'home' decision. The game which was heading to be a good TEST has been spoilt by the umpires. Great to see the beautiful batting 'fightback' by Laxman, Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly. Though Symonds did get to 162 but his innings lacked the class of the Indians.

  • Shashi on January 3, 2008, 23:28 GMT

    Well done Team India and better done Siddhartha.

    It is after ages that I have seen such a lyrical explanation of a days play and it sounds absolutely fabulous.

    Sid, please keep it up.

  • neeraj on January 3, 2008, 21:36 GMT

    Dravid and Laxman both played well. Dravid lived up to his legend as the wall-a slow scorer who stays. Yes Dravid did take a long time to score, and he took a huge amount of dots. Yes, any other batsman, especially Laxman or possibly Dhoni, could have posted a larger score off of the 240 some balls David faced. But, Dravid is the only one who can last for this long against an Australian pace attack like this one. And, like it or not, he added 53 to our total. If he had mimicked his fellow opener, things would have gone differently. Dravid was forced to score slowly because Jaffer has yet to make a big score, so Dravid has to stay around long enough to take the shine off the ball unaided. When you're playing Australian quicks on the Sydney pitch, that's essential. So it's better that he defended and minimized the chances of getting out. I have confidence that India's lineup (especially Ganguly, Dhoni, Tendla) will play better because of Dravid's sacrifice. PS: Good Luck Yuvraj! Make 169

  • Krishna on January 3, 2008, 21:08 GMT

    A word about umpiring controversies. Dissent is punished but dishonesty is rewarded (with runs or wickets!!)

  • Swastik on January 3, 2008, 20:28 GMT

    That was one of the most beautifully written articles I have read on cricket in a long time. The usage of words befitting the occasion was done with aplomb and it painted a picture that was as beautiful as a Da Vinci painting.Hats off to Siddhartha Vaidyanathan for putting the situation of the two batsmen in such words. Hopefully the good work is carried on tomorrow by Sachin and Saurav.

  • mohammed on January 3, 2008, 19:13 GMT

    Siddhartha Vaidyanathan - I admire your language,more than the innings of laxman, the way you have described it was really sweet n beautiful,man...your superb in it.. show this comment 2 your boss n ask for a promotion dude... hats of sid...n laxman too!!!!!!!!

  • Prakash on January 3, 2008, 17:49 GMT

    Havent seen such poetic articles in a long while! Nicely written.

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