Rest of South Africa v Indians, Potchefstroom, 3rd day December 9, 2006

Laxman heaps praise on bowlers



VRV Singh was singled out for a special mention by VVS Laxman © AFP
VVS Laxman was delighted with the efforts of his pace bowlers, who set up the 96-run victory over Rest of South Africa with an inspired showing on the second morning, but admitted that the batting continued to be a worry as India head into the first Test of the series at Johannesburg in less than a week's time. With Rahul Dravid almost certain to return for that game, Laxman could look back with immense satisfaction on a job well done as captain.

"All of them bowled well, according to the plans we had discussed at the team meetings," he said, when asked to assess the pace trio. "They bowled the length we needed to bowl and they hit the right areas. It will give them a lot of confidence heading into the first Test."

He said that the weather had played its part in the declaration on the second morning. "We were looking to bat on after the first day," he said. "But with the overnight rain and the moisture on the pitch, we decided to make use of that."

All the bowlers impressed, but there was a special mention for VRV Singh, who returned figures of 5 for 76 in his first game in South Africa. "He bowled amazingly well," said Laxman. "He was the quickest of the lot, and showed lots of energy and enthusiasm."

Irfan Pathan was man of the match for his first-innings century, but Laxman insisted that he would primarily be picked as a bowler. And on that front, the news wasn't quite so heartening, with the Rest of South Africa batsmen singling him out for heavy punishment in both innings. "He's going through a lean patch as a bowler, but the way he batted was just amazing," he said. "You have to give credit to him. The hard work is beginning to pay off. The partnership between him and Sourav [Ganguly] put us in a position of strength."

The batting woes were glossed over - "No doubt it's a big issue, but having achieved a 96-run victory gives the team a lot of confidence" - and he expressed his disappointment at not having made a big score himself. "I was playing well in both innings," he said. "I was middling the ball, and I'm happy that I was able to occupy the crease for quite some time. Unfortunately, I didn't carry on. When you play in Australia and South Africa, it's very important that once you get in, you go on to get a big score."

Both Wasim Jaffer and Virender Sehwag had poor outings, but Laxman said that it was too early to press the panic button when it came to the opening slots. "Both are world-class players, and we're confident that they'll come good in the first Test," he said. "So far, we haven't thought about tweaking the batting order."

Jacques Rudolph, who led Rest of South Africa, was downcast at the manner of the defeat, especially after Vaughn van Jaarsveld and Justin Kemp had rattled the Indians with a rollicking century partnership. "We had them on the rails at one stage," he said, "but a silly run-out stopped our momentum."



There are still plenty of problems in India's batting © AFP
Morne Morkel rocked the Indian top order in the first innings, and it was Alfonso Thomas's turn in the second, and Rudolph said that pre-match plans on the bowling front had been satisfactorily implemented. "Before the game, I told the guys that the way we bowl will send a message through to the Test matches. In both innings, we had them 90 for 5 or so, and had we not dropped a catch [van Jaarsveld dropped Ganguly] in the first innings, it could have been 100 for 6. I think the South African side will be looking forward to bowling to them."

When asked about Zaheer Khan, who carried his excellent one-day form into this game, Rudolph said: "You can clearly see that he's leading the attack. He has the experience and the skill, and he gets it in good areas. He'll be a man to watch." He wasn't quite so kind though when asked about the various on-field incidents, which had seen parts of the game played in a heated atmosphere not usually found at tour matches.

"Sometimes it's a bit of stupidity," he said. "The inexperience of Sreesanth showed at times. Hopefully, he can back it up in the Test matches with the ball in hand, and not necessarily his mouth." As far as India are concerned though, they won't care what their bowlers mouth off, as long as they bowl as they did here. A few runs from the batsmen would help too.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo