India v Australia, TVS Cup, Game 2, Gwalior October 26, 2003

Two men who left third man alone

Amit Varma and Chandrahas Choudhury

When India's most destructive batsman and their most elegant strokeplayer add 191 runs, it is bound to be treat for the eyes. So it was when Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman made centuries in their first one-day international against Australia since the World Cup final. There was nothing indiscriminate about their batting - it was a measured performance, with neither batsman taking too many risks.

One of the most common strokes in one-day cricket is the dab down to third man for a single. But opening the face of the bat carries its attendant dangers, and Tendulkar and Laxman were wary of getting out that way. The statistics tell that story well: only six of Tendulkar's 100 runs came in that region, as opposed to four of Laxman's 102. And the first time Tendulkar tried that shot, he was out.

Where Tendulkar got his runs Runs Runs off boundaries
Behind wicket - off side 6 0
Square of wicket - off side 9 4
Cover - off side 24 12
Front of wicket - off side 5 0
Front of wicket - on side 13 10
Midwicket - on side 6 0
Square of wicket - on side 20 8
Behind wicket - on side 17 0

The cover region was the most productive one for both players - Laxman got 32 runs there, while Tendulkar got 24. Laxman, during his innings, also took a lot of balls from outside off and on off and turned them wristily on the leg side. He hit 17 runs in the midwicket region and 16 square on the leg side. He got 22 runs in the V between mid-on and mid-off.

Where Laxman got his runs Runs Runs off boundaries
Behind wicket - off side 4 0
Square of wicket - off side 11 4
Cover - off side 32 12
Front of wicket - off side 16 4
Front of wicket - on side 6 0
Midwicket - on side 17 8
Square of wicket - on side 16 8
Behind wicket - on side 0 0

Tendulkar favoured the region square on the leg side, and the area behind square - 37 of his runs came in those two areas. He also got 13 in the long-on region, on-driving impressively when the ball was in the slot.

Laxman played a lot more on the front foot than Tendulkar. Laxman played on the front foot for 70% of his innings (94 out of 134 balls), going on the back foot only 30 times. Tendulkar, in contrast, stepped forward 73 times in his 119 balls (61%) and went back 43 times. Tendulkar's strike-rate on the back foot was 90, as opposed to an overall rate strike-rate of 84. Laxman's strike-rate, whether stepping back or moving forward, was in the late 70s.

Part of this was perhaps because the Australian bowlers, for some strange reason, bowled fuller to Laxman than to Tendulkar. As many as 26 of the balls Laxman received were either full, yorkers or half-volleys, as opposed to nine for Tendulkar. Tendulkar got 47 balls which were just short of a good length, or shorter, while Laxman got just 40, despite playing 15 balls more. The strategy was befuddling: Tendulkar's strike-rate against those short balls was 87, while Laxman's was 78.

Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India. Chandrahas Choudhury is staff writer of Wisden Asia Cricket magazine.