Doing it the '90s way

With three days to go in this game and a series to save, Australia can only hope Matthew Hayden and friends don't binge on the prawns as Mike Gatting so famously did back in 1993. In many respects, India once again resemble the side that crushed all-comers during the last decade of the 20th century, and Australia need all hands on deck to avoid a repeat of the thrashing they got at Eden Gardens in 1998.

The only good thing to come out of that four-day debacle was Steve Waugh's involvement with Udayan, but charity will be the last thing on Indian minds when they take the field tomorrow. Already, Zaheer Khan has got disconcerting movement into the left-handers' pads, and a couple of deliveries from Anil Kumble and Amit Mishra spat off the surface from the rough. Hayden and Simon Katich survived 15 overs before stumps, but as the ball softens and the bounce becomes even more uneven, the close-in cordon will be so proximate that mouthwash tips could be exchanged.

The 3-0 annihilation of England 15 years ago established the blueprint for a generation. Once they won the toss, and sometimes when they didn't [like at Eden Gardens in 1998], India's batting line-up would proceed as serenely as Tennyson's brook. The only threat would be boredom or satiation. With Sachin Tendulkar often to the fore, and support from the likes of Navjot Sidhu, Mohammad Azharuddin and Vinod Kambli, monumental totals would be constructed before a spin trident punctured visiting hopes of survival.

It was relentless cricket, and the batting usually followed a pattern. Never gung-ho, the leading lights would steadily wear down the bowling, easing along at more than three an over to give themselves ample time to force a result. There were echoes of that in the way this Indian innings was constructed, with Tendulkar and then VVS Laxman playing around a superlative effort from Gautam Gambhir.

There were often lulls, especially against Stuart Clark and Shane Watson, the tidiest of the pace bowlers on view, but the pressure never built because the ultra-defensive fields set by Ricky Ponting made the accumulation of singles as easy as cherry picking. More impressive though was the treatment of the errant ball. Almost nothing was spared, with Laxman's wristy flicks through midwicket from outside off stump especially demoralising.

Even during a morning session that gave the impression of slowness, India moved along at a cracking pace, gathering 97 from just 26 overs. It wasn't the new-age cricket unveiled by Ponting before the series - has anyone seen it? - but it was a return to the tried and tested ways of the past. As Laxman said later in the evening, that strategy was fine-tuned to such an extent that India had success with it at venues as diverse as Multan, Headingley and Sydney.

In decades gone by, Mumbai batsmen would be accused of being khadoos, a term that combines bloody-mindedness with the desire to bury the opponent in the fifth-day dust. For more than two decades, it helped them mentally disintegrate domestic opposition and the presence of so many Mumbai stalwarts in the national side meant that it eventually became part of the big picture. Neither Gambhir nor Laxman is from Mumbai, having emerged from the vastly different cricketing cultures of Delhi and Hyderabad, but the cold-eyed approach has been imbibed by every successful batsman given his cap during the Gavaskar-Tendulkar era.

India scored 317 runs from just 72 overs on the second day, with Laxman and Gambhir stretching their partnership to 278. Astonishingly, it was the fourth stand in excess of 250 that Laxman has been involved in against Australia. And after his latest killing-them-softly masterpiece, he will only hope that the result is similar to Kolkata [376] and Adelaide [303], rather than Sydney [353], where Steve Waugh managed to salvage a draw from the wreckage of his Test farewell.