India ride on Laxman's hundred
A fragrant, soothing breeze blew across the Queens Sports Club as India stamped their dominance on the second day of the first Test at Bulawayo. The breeze was called VVS Laxman and his eighth Test hundred drove India to 325 for 3 at the end of the day and, after a patchy performance on the field yesterday, helped them wrest the initiative.
On a shirtfront of a pitch, with conditions ideal for batting, the rest of India's top order might rue their dismissals after getting their eye in. Both the openers threw it away after a rollicking start and Rahul Dravid looked impregnable until he received a ball that bounced more than he expected. Laxman, though, overcame early jitters, survived a few edgy moments and bided his time during a barren phase, before launching into one of his artistic symphonies that usually leaves the opposition in a daze.
When on 8, Laxman lazily pushed at a full-length ball from Blessing Mahwire and was fortunate to see the edge zoom past second slip. He then took 39 balls to go from 10 to 14 and kept pushing loose deliveries straight to the fielders. But the post-tea session brought back the vintage Laxman and the last hour was all about supple wrists guiding the ball to various corners of the park as Zimbabwe wilted under a delicate assault. He reached his hundred - his first since the Sydney classic in January 2004 - with a caress through the covers and celebrated with a feeble punch of the air - probably his most violent act all day. It showed us how much this innings meant to him.
For most of the time, he got support from a familiar ally with whom he has conjured up miracles in the past. Dravid came into the game with an indifferent one-day series behind him - he averaged 12.8 in five matches - but he was in complete control against this weak bowling attack. Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir had departed in quick succession - both to irresponsible shots against Blessing Mahwire - and Dravid showed the value of precise shot selection in the next two hours. The run-rate was already more than five an over, with Sehwag and Gambhir smashing the erratic bowling in an entertaining assault before lunch, and Dravid made sure the dominant position wasn't surrendered. His innings didn't reek of aggression but he managed to score at a fair clip through some orthodox methods. He guided Laxman through a tricky phase and the two brought up their eighth century partnership in Tests and put India firmly in control.
Mahwire gave Zimbabwe their third lifeline of the day when he caused one to bounce awkwardly and forced Dravid to edge but Laxman, along with a cautious Sourav Ganguly, carried on the momentum. Ganguly, like Laxman, last made a century on the Australian tour in 2003-04 and he may not get too many better chances to revive his flagging fortunes with the bat.
The Indian bowling too was far more impressive this morning, compared to the wasted opening burst yesterday, and Irfan Pathan blew away the tail, ending with his fourth five-wicket haul in Tests. His length was immaculate and with the ball swinging viciously, the tailenders didn't have too much of a chance - Keith Dabengwa edged to second slip, Gavin Ewing was trapped plumb in front and Mahwire was comprehensively bowled. The final wicket was his 50th in Tests, only in his 13th game, and he showed that he can be close to unplayable if, and when, he finds his swing.
Taylor c Gambhir b Zaheer 13 (25 for 1)
Beaten by inswinger, inside-edge ricochets to short-leg
Masakadza c Karthik b Zaheer 14 (45 for 2)
Short and legside, flying catch to keeper
Duffin lbw b Pathan 56 (119 for 3)
Played around a straight one
Ebrahim c and b Pathan 24 (124 for 4)
Patted a simple return catch.
Streak c Dravid b Kumble 27 (193 for 5)
Expansive drive, edge to first slip
Coventry lbw Kumble 2 (197 for 6)
Beaten for pace, trapped in front
Blignaut lbw Zaheer 4 (210 for 7)
Rooted to the crease, missed a straight one
Dabengwa c Laxman b Pathan 35 (269 for 8)
Poked at outswinger, edged to second slip
Ewing lbw b Pathan 0 (269 for 9)
Trapped in front by straight one
Mahwire b Pathan 4 (279 all out)
Short of a length, seamed back, hit stumps
Sehwag b Mahwire 44 (88 for 1)
Played around inducker
Gambhir c Taylor b Mahwire 46 (98 for 2)
Flashy drive to second slip
Dravid c Taylor b Mahwire 77 (228 for 3)
Beaten by extra bounce, edge to second slip
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo