Tendulkar and Laxman dazzle the SCG
Close India 650 for 5 (Tendulkar 220*, Laxman 178; Gillespie 3-112) v Australia
Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman made life miserable for the Australians
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India seized the momentum early in the morning, as Laxman and Tendulkar smashed Brett Lee for seven fours in three overs to hit him out of the attack. Laxman hit five of these, with wristy flicks and elegant drives that evoked memories of the last time he played at Sydney, when he smashed a Stan McCabesque 167. Having got the day off to a blazing start, though, the batsmen then focussed on careful consolidation, playing the bowling on its merit.
Laxman's innings was all sense and sensuousness, with swathes of studied watchfulness punctuated by passages of dazzling brilliance. He caressed balls that pitched outside off through the leg side with the most delicate flicks of the wrist; he cut and drove on both front and back foot with flowing grace; and yet, there was no risk in his batting. His shotmaking was judicious, while his strokeplay was magisterial.
At the other end, another master. Tendulkar did not destroy the bowling today as much as he allowed it to disintegrate. He played a solid compact game, clearly determined to make sure that the errors of Melbourne were not repeated, when India had frittered away a fine start. He was outscored by Laxman in the morning session - he began the day on 73 to Laxman's 29, and reached his 100 when Laxman was in his 80s - but did not let that bother him, and in fact, walked down the pitch a couple of times when it seemed that Laxman was shifting gears, to caution him. He did put away the bad balls, and played quite a few of his staple straight-drives and back-foot punches, but he batted largely within himself, giving respect to a lot of balls he might, in his younger days, have tried to put away. Instead of going to the bowlers, he made them come at him, strain themselves for extra effort, and in the process, reveal their inadequacies.
Sachin Tendulkar: worked hard to rack up 220 not out, his highest Test score and 32nd Test century
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India did not accelerate as the last session began, which indicated that they did not intend to declare towards the end of the day, but to bat on, just as Australia had done against England at Headingley in 1993. As Gideon Haigh recounted in a recent piece in Wisden Asia Cricket, Allan Border, then captain, had famously told Steve Waugh that he wanted to "cause further mental and physical disintegration". Here, the Australians began to disintegrate after tea - at least MacGill did, dropping Tendulkar on 149 and Laxman on 177.
The second new ball finally got Australia the long awaited breakthrough, as Laxman was bowled for 178 through the gate by an incutter from Gillespie (547 for 4). Rahul Dravid had been lbw to a similar incutter the previous day, and Gillespie had a couple of lbw shouts against Tendulkar, who shrugged off these aberrant moments and moved on fluidly towards his double-century. He timed the ball beautifully in the last session, and one shot that stood out, and that he played repeatedly, was the wristy on-drive for four between midwicket and long-on.
Sourav Ganguly made an aggressive 16, off 11 balls, before being yorked by Lee (570 for 5), and then Parthiv Patel took over. Patel, astonishingly, dominated an 80-run partnership with Tendulkar, making 45 off 40 balls, including seven crisply struck boundaries. Although many of these were off MacGill and Simon Katich at the tail of the day, it showcased his potential as a batsman.
Tendulkar, meanwhile, moved on to his highest Test score, concentrating hard, running harder, all the way till the last ball of the day. It was not just the quantity of his runs that made this a career highlight; it was also the import of the occasion, with India all set up for an away series win against the best side in the world. It was, of course, the farewell Test of another modern great, wearing a baggy green cap. But Steve Waugh has never been a man for sentimentality, and he, of all people, will appreciate what India have accomplished so far.
Amit Varma is managing editor of Wisden Cricinfo in India.