March 15, 2001

Pressure can do strange things to the most formidable outfit

Cricket has once again emerged victorious at the Eden Gardens with the Indians registering an incredible victory. Even the most optimistic Indian fan would not have dared to predict a victory for India before the start of the last day. At the end of the third day, the Indians would have only hoped to draw the Test match provided Laxman and Dravid did not perish early on the fourth morning. But what transpired over the last two days of the Test was something out of this world. Laxman and Dravid not only played out the entire fourth day but their aggression brought about enough runs for the Indians to start thinking of a victory on the last day.

This incredible victory was fashioned by Laxman, the stylish stroke maker from Hyderabad in the company of Dravid. This partnership turned the match around completely on its head and what would delight them is the fact that India won the Test. Laxman's innings was out of the top drawer as he kept going about his job with the minimum of fuss. His shot selection was a treat to watch and the time he has to play his shots is what makes him so special. Mind you, he carved out a stroke filled century at Sydney but the circumstances under which he got his record breaking score makes his knock absolutely invaluable and incomparable. Not only was his side in deep trouble when he walked out to bat, but he had the extra pressure of having to prove his credentials in international cricket. Apart from breaking many records during his innings, Laxman has irrevocably proved that he belongs in the middle order. With Laxman establishing himself at the highest level, he has eased a lot of load off Tendulkar's shoulders.

Another factor that enabled Laxman to carry on the way he did was the support he got from Dravid. The latter was sent down the order and there were a lot of hushed whispers, which was getting Dravid's goat. This particular century would be very satisfying for Dravid, as he was very keen to get a ton against the Aussies. In a way this particular thought must have curbed his natural flow in the earlier knocks in this series. He established authority over Warne, his nemesis in this series with some delightful strokes on either side of the wicket. He would have liked to get to his double hundred but the mix up with Zaheer Khan brought about his end but I am sure he will not have too many complaints about it. It is only fair to say that no amount of praise is adequate for the performances of Dravid and Laxman.

If it was Laxman and Dravid who hogged the limelight for their batting deeds, the young Sardar from Jallandhar, Harbhajan Singh became the hero on the final day. His haul of 13 wickets for the match has given the Indian team the much-needed victory and with it the confidence that they can put it across to the Aussies again. Tendulkar, who is a difficult man to keep out of the game, claimed three wickets to provide the foil for Harbhajan Singh. Raju ended up with just a single wicket in the whole game but he did the containing job reasonably well for one making a comeback. The Australians were bundled out in just under 70 overs and now the Indians should realise that pressure can do strange things to even the most formidable outfit.

The series is now level and as a result both the sides have a lot to play for at Chennai. The victory at Kolkata has provided a lot of points to ponder. On top of the list is the fact that a team performance on a consistent basis is the key to success. One hopes that from now on the Indians rely more on collective strength rather than on individual brilliance. This belief will in fact release a lot of pressure on the main performers, which will result in them performing better.