Dravid steals the show
Close India 477 for 7 (Dravid 199*, Laxman 148) trail Australia 556 by 79 runs
VVS Laxman's glorious drives were a delight, but he was dismissed just before tea
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Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman, Australia's scourge in the 2000-01 series in India, put up a near repeat performance at the Adelaide Oval, as India finished the third day on 477 for 7, just 79 behind Australia's first-innings total. Coming to bat just after tea on the second day, the pair was not separated till the last over before tea on the third, by which time they had added 303 for the fifth wicket, ensuring that India went past the follow-on target at a canter. Laxman perished for a magnificent 148, but Dravid continued his monumental effort, batting for almost nine hours, and was just one short of his fourth Test double-hundred at close of play.
On a bright and clear day, Dravid and Laxman gave the Sunday crowd plenty to cheer about. Both were circumspect in the first session, and especially in the first hour - when only 28 came from 17 overs - but grim defence gradually gave way to exceptional strokeplay, as the batsmen grew in confidence on a pitch that, apart from the odd ball keeping low, remained an excellent one for batting.
Dravid's knock was an emphatic answer to those who had raised doubts about his ability to get the runs in Australia. There were sublime strokes all round the wicket, but the pick of them were the classical cover-drives, with the left foot coming out to the pitch of the ball, and the bat coming down at just the right angle to ensure that the ball went into the gaps. Laxman demonstrated his wonderful wristiness repeatedly, whether in clipping balls square on the off side or dragging deliveries from outside off and flicking them to mid-on and midwicket. His handling of Stuart MacGill was reminiscent of the way he treated Shane Warne in the home series in 2001, as he either used twinkle-toed footwork to get inside the line of the ball and drive through cover, or flicked on-drives nonchalantly against the turn.
After an opening session which produced just 72 runs, Dravid and Laxman stepped it up, with at least one boundary in each of the first five overs after lunch. That was also the period when Dravid reached his century, with a rare false stroke: a top-edge off Jason Gillespie that sailed over the backward-square-leg fence for six. Laxman, who had started off 12 runs in the lead, reached his hundred - his third against Australia - three overs later in much quieter fashion, pushing a single to midwicket.
As the stand grew, the records began to tumble - at 225, the partnership became the highest by an Indian pair in Tests in Australia; then, when Dravid produced a flawless cover-drive to bring up the 250 of the partnership, the pair became the only one in Test history to add more than 250 twice in Tests against Australia.
Australia did have one sniff at an early wicket, when Laxman edged a push off Brad Williams immediately after the first drinks break in the morning session. Ricky Ponting, at second slip, dived to his right and got both his hands to the ball, but couldn't quite latch on. Laxman was then on 65, the score was 208.
Steve Waugh took the new ball as soon as it was due, but within ten overs of it being taken, Waugh himself was bowling his gentle seam-ups, and angling it down the leg side with a leg slip in place, hoping for a tickle. Gillespie bowled another testing spell in the afternoon to add to his fiery effort in the morning, when his seven overs cost just five, but the Indian pair resisted everything that the Australians threw at it. To make matters worse for Waugh, Williams injured his left shoulder while diving near the boundary, and was taken to hospital for a scan.
Laxman and Dravid seemed set to take India unscathed to tea, when Laxman flashed at one outside off and edged to Adam Gilchrist (388 for 5). However, Parthiv Patel scotched hopes of an Indian collapse, making a composed 31, the feature of which was his handling of MacGill, who was smashed for three consecutive fours. Katich ended the 59-run partnership when Parthiv drove a catch to Ponting at cover (447 for 6), and though Ajit Agarkar fell soon after, Dravid's monumental effort continued. With Anil Kumble coming in, Dravid was forced to farm the strike and avoid taking a few singles, which meant that at close of play, he was left on 199 - a score that, at the start of play, he would gladly have taken.
S Rajesh is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.