March 13, 2001

Laxman holds centre stage but India still face uphill task

The third day of the second Test saw VVS Laxman come into his own, playing two innings of character in one day. The young man from Hyderabad staked a serious claim to be permanently posted at the No 3 slot. After making a sensational half century that dragged India's score on to 171 in the first innings, Laxman made a thoroughly polished unbeaten 109 in the second essay, taking India to 254/4 at stumps. Despite Laxman's best effort, India were still 20 runs behind and in deep trouble. During the course of his classy innings, Laxman crossed 1,000 runs in Test cricket.

India had taken such a hammering in the first innings that few believed that they would be able to bounce back in the manner they did. When three quick wickets were lost it looked like the same old story once more. The difference was that Laxman was already set at that point. All the Indian captain had to do was play singles and get off the strike. To his credit Sourav Ganguly did that efficiently.

For Laxman, there was no question of quietly stroking singles. Getting so comfortable against Shane Warne, Laxman would dance down the wicket at will and play smart on drives. Using his wrists, the Hyderabadi stylist would send the ball anywhere between mid on and square leg. Of all his 19 boundaries, the five that took him from 43 to 63 in the spell of just two overs was an example of how well Laxman was set. After taking 14 runs off a Kasprowicz over, including a pull, a flick and a coverdrive, Laxman proceeded to score 11 of the next over - delivered by Warne. This was a period that saw the tables turned. An Indian batsmen was forcing Steve Waugh to change the field around.

When Glenn McGrath had a few words with the Indian captain and then went around the wicket to him, the situation got the better of the Indian captain. Playing inside the line to a ball that was angled into the southpaw, Ganguly nicked one to the keeper and his innings of 48 had come to an end.

The finest moment for VVS Laxman came, ironically, in the company of the man he replaced at the number three slot. Rahul Dravid could only watch and applaud as Laxman turned a ball from Warne around the corner to reach his second Test century, the first also coming in dire circumstances against Australia at Sydney where Laxman made 167.

Even at 109 not out (246 balls, 19 fours) Laxman's work has just begun. If he wants to take India out of the woods, Laxman will have to do better than his previous best of 167. To do so, he will have Rahul Dravid (7 not out) for company on the third day.

Earlier in the day, when India were still in their first innings, Laxman gave a glimpse of what was possible on this wicket. Although there was never any doubt that India would fall short of the follow on mark, Laxman gave the Australians a few things to worry about. He moved from his overnight score of 26 to 59 (122 mins, 83 balls, 12X4) with the best strokeplay by an Indian in the match thus far. Shortly after making his half century however, an unfortunate bit of umpiring sent Laxman on his way. Sweeping at a ball from Shane Warne that was pitched well outside the leg stump, Laxman saw the ball balloon off his forearm to first slip and then watched in dismay as umpire Peter Willey upheld the loud shout and that was that. India had managed to limp to 171 all out in response to Australia's 445.

Still 274 behind, India were asked to follow on by Steve Waugh. Making up for his first innings duck, a nervous Sadagoppan Ramesh got off the mark in a hurry and sped to 30 off just 33 balls when lunch was called. Just after the break however, Ramesh (30, 43 balls) was foxed by a clever piece of bowling by Warne, to be caught brilliantly by Mark Waugh at slip.

Instead of the dour Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly sent the in-form Laxman out to the middle. Having got his eye in earlier in the day, Laxman walked out confidently. His gait was a fair indication of the kind of form he was in and the rest was phenomenal.

Das and Laxman combined well until a freak dismissal got rid of Das. Pushed onto the back foot by some quick short pitched stuff from Jason Gillespie, Das trod on his wicket and dislodged a bail. Batting well for his 39, Das the ideal foil for Laxman till that point.

Sachin Tendulkar, who made 10 in the first innings could only match the feat as he flashed hard at a ball outside the off stump to be caught behind off the bowling of Jason Gillespie. Once again Tendulkar had failed at the Eden Gardens. As expected, his dismissal caused a good many dejected fans to troop out of the stadium. Little did they know that someone else would play an innings of such class that even Tendulkar would have been proud.