Doubling up differently
You have to envy VVS Laxman. Not for his sinuous wrists, not for his graceful movements, not for his languid batting style but simply for having the pleasure of standing at second slip when India's pace bowlers are in operation. Standing between Sachin Tendulkar, at first slip, and Sourav Ganguly, at third, he is often the silent participant in some intense discussions, ones where the two on either side chirp away merrily.
While they're batting together, though, there's no third party. Yet they rarely relent. During their 96-run stand this morning, the early parts of which were spent negotiating the second new ball, mid-pitch conferences raged along. Whether it was advice, tactics, or plans for the evening is anyone's guess but they often resembled doubles partners on a tennis court. They've played together for about ten years, they've opened the batting for long in the one-day format, and they've played under each other's captaincy. You'd think they would have exhausted all they had to say; it appears they've just got started.
India's biggest challenge today, with the sun out and the pitch playing true, was to negate the effects of the second new ball. Ganguly, usually circumspect in these conditions, flowed; Tendulkar, who you'd expect to be more solid, dug a small hole for himself. Almost every time Ryan Sidebottom beat Tendulkar's bat, or appealed for a leg-before, Ganguly had a word with his partner.
At the other end, Ganguly eagerly took on Chris Tremlett and James Anderson, cover-driving as if all was well. Ganguly's statements about the ball doing "a bit in the morning" and Sidebottom bowling "well to Sachin" must go down as big under-statements. It was doing much more than a bit, and he did much better than well. "To get through the second new ball in the morning was important," he said. "And we knew if we could get runs on the board, we'd be in a good position to win the match."
Both handled Monty Panesar expertly, using their bats more often than their pads. Tendulkar stepped out on a few occasions, crunching an aggressive cover-drive over the infield, while Ganguly took a few big strides forward and caressed him all along the ground. What was the plan then, did they have any specific targets? "There were no targets," dead-batted Ganguly. "Just bat. It was just the third morning of a match and there was a lot of time left. We thought we'll just bat and whatever comes, comes." More like, just chat.
It's tough to spot similarities in their batting, or indeed their personalities. One is quiet, the other tends to be brash; one is a great batsman who struggled to lead, the other a great captain who sometimes struggled with the bat. Both had their innings sawed off with dubious umpiring decisions - one stood transfixed before trudging off, the other rushed off spewing venom, flaying his bat angrily. Tendulkar was spotted cooling off with an ice-cream; Ganguly was "alright". "Some go your way, some go against", said Ganguly who started the press conference with "I don't want to speak about the decision" and ended it with "You have to live with it". Simon Taufel, it seems, can breathe easy.
Does he think India can pull off their first Test win at Trent Bridge? "I think 480 is still a big total. We were 280-290 ahead, and the wicket is going to deteriorate. On the third day of a Test anywhere in the world, the wicket is going to be good. It's the fourth and fifth day it's going to deteriorate."
But, crucially, what does he have to say about Tendulkar's knock? "There's nothing you can talk about Sachin, he produces it every time and hope he keeps doing the same." If he does, and if Ganguly too keeps joining him, it's time those stump mikes were shifted to the middle of the pitch.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is assistant editor of Cricinfo