India v New Zealand, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 5th day November 8, 2010

Harbhajan and Laxman provide a contrast of styles

ESPNcricinfo staff
Harbhajan and Laxman came to India's rescue against New Zealand in their own contrasting styles

The way VVS Laxman and Harbhajan Singh ran between the wickets today perfectly captured the differences in their personas, and their knocks. As ever, Laxman never seemed to run, but strolled calmly in his anachronistic way. Harbhajan was different; he often ambled three-quarters of the way down the pitch, before rushing at the end to barely beat the throw. Occasionally, he just walked across. On one instance, he even back-pedalled a few steps on the second run. It suggested a touch of insouciance, a pinch of foolhardiness, a smidgen of showmanship, and a streak of ballsiness. It's what makes Harbhajan the player he is, and all those attributes were reflected in his batting.

Trouble arrived as early as the third over of the day. He drove to the left of Daniel Vettori at mid-off and set off for a single. Had the throw been accurate (it bounced over the stumps), that would have been the end of Harbhajan. It would be the quickest he would run for a single all day. The next Harbhajan moment came an over later: there was a gap of about seven feet between short cover and short extra cover, and he smacked a length delivery from Chris Martin right between them. Was he aiming for that gap or was it a purely instinctive reaction? Was it ballsy or was it foolhardy? Perhaps in his mind there was no choice at that moment. He simply had to play it.

Soon after he played a cheeky reverse sweep off Jeetan Patel, a shot he later described with great delight, perfectly capturing his spirit: "He was bowling outside off and I thought if there is an opportunity I will reverse sweep. I made up my mind to reverse sweep that ball. If I had missed that ball I would have been out," he said with a laugh. "And that would have been a mess. Glad I connected it."

At the same time, there seemed to be an awareness of the risks he was taking somewhere in the background in his psyche, even if it wasn't strong enough to overpower his adventurous instinct. "I want to promise to myself that I should not play a reverse sweep in Test cricket again because I have got out playing that shot many times."

Still blocking is not his style. "I know that I will get out if I keep defending," he said. Of course, that was followed by, "I know if I can play straight, I can score runs; there is no need for fancy shots." This is from the same man who played the reverse sweep, the hoick over midwicket, the walk-down-the-pitch-and-smack shots, and the lofted hits over long-on fielders. But that's Harbhajan the batsman for you.

Rewind to the first hour of play. Harbhajan walked down the track and swiped Martin from outside off to the leg side. Laxman said something from the other end. At that stage, India were 135 for 6, several runs, and at least an hour's batting, short of safety. The very next ball he walked out again, got down on his knee, and dragged a delivery from well outside off to the leg side. This time Laxman walked the full length of the pitch to have a chat with his partner, and Harbhajan nodded. Planned or not, the next delivery from Martin was perfect: it was short and slightly wide. A straighter delivery might not have raised temptation in the context of what had already happened in that over. Harbhajan, of course, flashed it over the head of gully, and received a pat on the back from his senior partner.

On the other hand, what can be said about Laxman that's not been said before? It is perhaps easier to define Laxman through the images of other batsmen in crisis situations. If it was Rahul Dravid, you would have seen him fighting; the hands that hold the bat seem to get tighter, the face-muscles tighten, the intensity escalates, self-admonishments increase, and you can feel the battle he is waging. The whole match situation comes alive in your mind when he bats. You can feel the gravitas.

If it was Sachin Tendulkar batting in crisis, you can feel his effort in trying to portray that there is no pressure out there and that he is in control. The signature self-nod after playing a shot is done more often and he would look at the bowler or turn away to the leg side with an expressionless face when he is beaten. You can feel him trying to be in total control. You can sense the pressure he puts himself on.

With Brian Lara, you just gasped and watched him trying to impose himself. You could feel his fierce desire to win the game on his own. Lara was, and knew he was, the centre of the universe in such situations, and that his team would live or die with him. And he let everyone know it. As he launched into his awe-inspiring counter-attacks, the chats with his partners would increase, and he will look to get inspired by any verbals from the opposition. He was like a boxer priming himself for heavyweight contest. You couldn't take your eyes of him.

With Laxman, you almost don't see him. You see his partners bat more. Or so it seems. He flows like a becalmed river. The fabulous wristy shots come and go, the singles are always flowing, the gaps are found repeatedly, and his face is calm. There is the ball and his reaction to it. That's it. Or it appears. These crisis situations seem to help him balance his art with commerce which he, sometimes, tussles with during less-demanding times.

The best Laxman tribute came from the opposing captain. "Laxman just did what he always does," Vettori said "He scores runs."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • vardarajan on November 11, 2010, 14:48 GMT

    mr vipin choodhary

    that link must have answered you sach's average v/s windies is not 42 as you suggested ,but its close to 60 ... sachin had played well against a windies team which had great bowlers .he did not get his average up against a winides bowling line up which had greats like adam sanford ,pedro collins,darren powell ... its for u to see who improved their records against windies post 2000 and became match winners. for your kind information while chasing 120, it was a collective failure & not sachin alone recently india got bowled out for 87 v/s nz in odi.atleast windies had great attack

    ... even the mighty aussies failed to score 107 against india at mumbai in 2004 - hayden,langer,ponting,martyn,clarke,gilchrist could not score 107 ?

    Agreed Sachin had a modest record against pak and saf . Still sach had scored a great 136 v/s pak only for his great teammates to lose . in his debut series sach batted at number 6 and still saved a test in company of sidhu from 38 for 4

  • Nilesh on November 11, 2010, 4:48 GMT

    @venkat4018, you said it right mate. Agarkar still deserves a chance ahead of still inexperienced fast bowlers in Indian Team. He may have been expensive sometimes, but he was always a good wicket-taker and partnership-broker. Dravid used him quite well under his own captaincy. Dont know why Ganguly used to ignore and had ignored him many a times.God only can tell what Ganguly earned by taking Dinesh Mongia into the team ahead og Agarkar for world cup matches in 2003.

  • Munawar on November 10, 2010, 7:33 GMT

    Laxman is perhaps the best batsman in world right now. Gambhir must make way for Jaffer. It's time to get the country's best bat who is not in the team back into the team. Technically and temperamentally Jaffer is the most well equipped for No.2 position and is a much better option than Vijay in Tests. Dravid must retire now. He clearly is struggling these days. Time for him to bid adieu. Pujara must be brought back in. Raina must go. He is good for ODIs and T20s but doesn't have the technique or temperament for Tests. No, Yuvraj shouldn't replace Raina. Yuvraj has got enough Test chances and is good for ODIs & T20s like Raina. Rohit like Yuvraj doesn't merit a Test place either. Kaif deserves a Test chance provided Dhoni agrees. Kaif as a wounded tiger will grab the opportunity with both hands and could be a threat for MSD as a potential future Test captain. Else Badrinath merits a Test cap. Ishant needs to be brought back in the Test XI. He is a special talent. Ojha must be persisted

  • vipin on November 10, 2010, 5:51 GMT

    sachin is batting well in dis stage of his carrier in 4th innings. before 2008, c his record in 4th inning, just 2 centuries & 3 half centuries, how many matches did he won for India batting in 4th innings against Ambrose & walsh, Doland & Pollock, Wasim & shoaib blah blah blah. he is getting advantage of Virendra Sehwag, it was sehwag who make quick fire 83 against England when India chase 387, where was sachin when India were chasin 120 against west indies, why was India unable to win just a single test match outside Indian subcontinent in whole 1990's, what was sachin avarege against west indies & Africa before 2000- 33 against africa, 42 against west indies, 35 against pakistan, when murali wasn't a great bowler, sachin average against Lanka was around 90.. after 2000 sachin average against lanka was 40, thanx to series in 2010, which increase his average little bit, 10 time a debut bowler take sachin his first wicket, no worldcup, no champion trophy, sorry mate u r not match winer

  • venkat on November 10, 2010, 5:11 GMT

    Dear Cricinfo,

    My comment is nowhere near the article that you have posted. But I feel that the best way of expressing myself is CRICINFO (it has maximum viewers). I am a die hard fan of Ajit Agarkar. I am not ashamed to be so. He has the best fast bowling record for India in ODI. 288 wickets with a good average. Economic Rate is 5.07. Just see the ecomonic rates of Sreeshanth, Ishanth, Vinay Kumar, etc.. Agarkar is far better. He can bat better than Ravindra Jadeja. Fantastic Fielder with a super throwing arm. But people tend to forget him because he is inconsistent. Of course He is but just imaging all our fast bowlers leak runs in death. I want him back in Indian Team. I hope this article is read by many lovers and haters of agarkar. He has dismissed almost all top batsmen on the cricket. He has not given much opportunities except under Azarudin and Dravid. Dinesh Mongia was picked ahead of him for sheer Luck under Ganguly captaincy. Just give him a chance once for lifetime.

  • Jay on November 10, 2010, 0:55 GMT

    @ vardarajan101 - Good work mate. Well done. Really it becomes a bit annoying and sad when we ignore SRT's contributions over 2 decades and start calling him selfish or record hungary. And what we throw at him every time is Lara's 153. That's it? This man has been a portrait of consistency, humility, hard work and dedication and has brought laurels to India around the world, and we kids start questioning his contributions. Guys he deserves a break. So what if he has a bad match. He is a human too and a much much better than us.

  • vardarajan on November 9, 2010, 22:05 GMT 116 and 52 at mcg what do you expect sachin to do when all his great team mates don't want to put up a fight ? where were the match winners and savers ? why could they not register a single good knock then ? 76 and 65 at mumbai in 2001 series

    scorecards tell you the story

    there are 2 more centuries of sachin which won match but not rated as matchwinning because of sachin failing in 2nd innings - oh i should say because of umpiring blunders against sachin

    port of spain in 2001 - sach got 117 and then given out lbw for duck in 2nd - what can sachin do if umpires are hell bent in giving sach out wrongly

    again 3rd test of 2001 series v/s aussies in chennai sach got 124 in 1st innings and 17 in 2nd innings ...again sach was given out incorrectly 2nd time round off a no ball

    VVS got 50's and sach was said to fail in 2nd innings ;but what can sach do if umpires don't let him bat ?

  • vardarajan on November 9, 2010, 21:46 GMT 214 & 53* in next match ... not match winning ???

    here are some knocks where sachin's gems were wasted by his own team mates :- trailing by 99 ,sachin got 122 in 2nd innings out off 219 what can sachin do if top 4 players except him make 7,6,9,0 ... decent contributions from others would have atleast saved us match 47 and 113 @ wellington in 1999 - our bowlers could not get last 4 wickets after having nz at 74 for 5 ??? - despite being 20 for 4 in 1st innings,sach's 113 could have made us win ..but our bowlers did not know how to get wickets 136 v/s pak getting india from 60 for 5 to 254 and our last 4 could not get 17 runs and managed just 5 runs ... this makes difference between sach's 136 and lara's 153 v/s aus .. ambrose and walsh stayed there for 63 runs with lara

  • vardarajan on November 9, 2010, 21:31 GMT chasing 299 india were 20 odd for 2 sachin made only 49 but it was the time he batted for that saved india the match chasing 387 sachin made 103* trailing by 334 , gambhir and sachin saved india this match this match was won by vvs,sach and raina .Again sadly people only remember VVS 100 ,but sach got those 54 when india were in deep trouble at 49 for 3 agreed vvs played a gem .. but equally important was ishant and sach's contribution,sach was 2nd highest scorer with 38 ...highest scorer for ind in the match with 136 ... its just one bad shot which got sach out and check out vvs too played the same shot numerous times but there was no fielder to catch it and very next over sach hit one in air and was out ...

  • vardarajan on November 9, 2010, 21:00 GMT

    continued from earlier one chasing 408 sachin got 86 ...what about others ? trailing by 260 , india were 11 for 2 , people remember rd's 115 but forget sach's 92 which put england on defensive , it was saved by rd,sach and sg -but sadly people forget srt and sg's contribution people will remember vvs getting 154* but not sachin's 176 as match-saving again people will point to vvs 69 ,but again when india were reeling at 10 for 2 it was sachin who took attack to aussies and made an attacking 55 on pitch that was turning square ...Chasing 387 when viru gets quickfire 84 v/s eng ..its his knock which won match more than sachin's 103* .. but when sachin scores an attacking 55 ...its one who scores more wins the match ... right ?

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