Laxman's knock shores up the Indians
Indians 311 for 9 (Laxman 72, Dhoni 60*) drew with Antigua & Barbuda 300 (Joseph 128*)
Easing into the Test series with some good batting practice, the Indians made the most of the second day of the warm-up game at the Police Recreation Ground in Antigua. Wasim Jaffer, VVS Laxman, Mohammad Kaif and Mahendra Singh Dhoni produced fluent half-centuries, all looking at ease against an attack that often veered towards the erratic.
With the relaxed setting providing an ideal backdrop - Harbhajan Singh spent nearly an hour learning the game of Warri, a popular indoor pastime in these parts - Jaffer and Laxman fit in nicely. Both reeled off some gorgeous drives, getting into the groove, and set the tone for the rest to follow. Kaif picked up the baton, punishing the spinners on a few occasions, while Dhoni ensured that the end came with a flourish. The batting, as always, appeared to be in safe hands; it's the bowling department that will give the Indians a few more headaches.
Jaffer, who has devoured several domestic attacks in the past, had no trouble in swatting away the short ones that Adam Sanford send down. He found the gaps with ease and would take a large chunk of confidence when he walks out to open the innings in the first Test in two days' time. Laxman was equally composed and, inevitably, a bit more artistic. All his nine boundaries were sweetly struck and he spent close to three-and-a-half hours in the middle, spent in milking the spinners and toying with the faster bowlers.
Antigua's spinners, Anthony Martin and Justine Athinaze, shared the bulk of the bowling, sending down as many as 46 overs. Martin, nicknamed "I roots" because of his Rastafarian braids, made an early impact with the wicket of Rahul Dravid, getting the ball to turn and kick, but was made to toil for the rest of the day. Athinaze impressed in patches, getting a couple of deliveries to spin sharply, but his two wickets were a more a result of the batsmen's indiscretion.
Kaif and Dhoni punched their way to half-centuries as well. Both were given a generous helping of loose balls, which they duly put away, and neither had any hesitation in stepping down and lofting the spinners. Greg Chappell hinted that the team could stick to playing five bowlers ("historically teams need five bowlers to win matches"), meaning that Kaif may yet again miss out on a Test spot. Suresh Raina did himself no favours by attempting to loft Martin, resulting in a simple catch to Sylvester Joseph at short midwicket. Yuvraj and Pathan didn't too much either, but by then, the Indians had done enough to complete a satisfying work out.
Dravid admitted that they would take the players' present form into account while picking the Test side. He also stated that the one-day series defeat hadn't dented his team's confidence, adding that fielding and catching were areas that they needed to surely address. "It's good we've been playing with a settled Test squad for a while," he said, "and it's good that a few players could get a hit out in the middle." He added that playing two spinners was an option that the team was considering. Considering Pathan's form, and considering the nature of the surface that's likely to be served up for the first Test, it looks an increasingly likely prospect.
How they were out
Wasim Jaffer run out (Daniel Thomas) 52 (87 for 2)
Short of his ground trying a risky single; sharp direct hit from square leg
Rahul Dravid c Athinaze b Martin 5 (96 for 3)
Cut a wide legbreak; good catch at first slip
VVS Laxman c Joseph b Athinaze 72 (194 for 4)
Chipped straight to short midwicket
Mohammad Kaif retired out 53 (194 for 5)
Suresh Raina c Joseph b Martin 4 (207 for 6)
Mistimed a lofted drive to short midwicket
Yuvraj Singh c Devon Thomas b Athinaze 20 (227 for 7)
\ Caught at slip trying to glide it to third man
Irfan Pathan st Mentore b Athinaze 12 (274 for 8)
Misses an offbreak after dancing down the track
Dinesh Karthik c Mentor b Hampson 9 (293 for 9)
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo