I guess I was waiting for the outcome of the test match to shoot this post out, because depending on the final outcome, I would have painted Laxman either in the shades of a tragic hero or a match winning superstar. In either case, his fluent 96 remains one of the best test cricket innings I have ever seen, and yes, I have seen his mammoth 281 against the invincible Ozzies (unlike now, they were a force in world cricket back then).
I will refrain from spouting the numerous statistical evidence of his exemplary excellence in the second innings, especially if it the third innings of the match, and just concentrate on the fluid poetry in motion that is his batting grace. A lot of people shall remember the elegant cover drives, the effortless leg glance, the audaciously timed square cuts. Of course, they were fabulous, but for me, one of the shots defining him, his style and his class fetched only a single. It was Harris, the orthodox left armer whose bowling Boycott’s grandma would have cherished for breakfast. A nicely flighted delivery looped in on the leg stump and after pitching, bounced a bit and turned slowly towards off stump. Whilst most batsmen would have plunged forwards and tried to fend it off or would have gone back and cut it away, Laxman just shifted the weight onto his back foot and with a wristy flourish, despatched the ball to… mid wicket. It got him only a single, but man that was so elegantly played, that I was mesmerized. People talk about the hand-eye coordination of Sehwag, but what about the wrists of this man? More supple than Shakira’s hip, they are indeed a God given gift.
It is a sad affair that he has always been the scapegoat. For his fitness, for his sluggish running (umm… who needs to run if they can hit boundaries like him almost at will?), for his outfielding (give him a break and get a few decent bowlers in the squad who can get the batsmen to edge stuff – and then let him flaunt his catching skills in the slips!), for his age…but he has proved them wrong time and again. The last couple of years especially seem to be good haul for the Indian seniors. Sachin, Dravid, Laxman have stood tall amongst the younger pile, proving that class is permanent.
Talking of Dravid, did you see his 200th catch in test matches? I don’t quite remember who the batsman was but the bowler was Harbhajan, and the batter was a right hander. Dravid was at first slip. There was a fine edge which went at such a pace that Dhoni barely had time to move. The ball had passed Dravid, but his left arm shot out like a rocket and picked it off thin air. Great watching. Great catching. In fact the catch was so good that Pujara (who, I think showed a lot of grit and determination in his debut match and although he got only 10 runs, he showed the glimmer of class which makes a great test batsman), who was at short leg shouted out “What a catch… YAAAYY!!!!”
India has won. The series is leveled and at least Dhoni’s devils are not going to lose their crown position. There is little South Africa need to change. Except for the fact that they have a spinner who does a better job kissing their skipper’s ass than bowling well. Seriously, Harris would not make it big in club cricket levels in Bengal, let alone in the International scenario. The fact that he gets so many wickets is more because people are too tied down by the troika of Steyn, Kallis and Morkel and eye him to get some easy runs. And he gets to buy wickets. But, on a pitch where Harbhajan made the Proteas dance to his tune, the only ball where he genuinely looked vicious was the one which got Zaheer Khan. It pitched on leg, turned and bounced, took Zaheer’s angled bat’s outer edge and looped into the hands of second slip. Otherwise, he seemed pretty much like cannon fodder. What happened to Paul Adams? At least Froggy’s bowling action would have scared the tailenders to give their wickets! Personally, I think Johann Botha is a better spinner than Harris, at least in the shorter version of the game.
The game is over. And an unpredictable win for the vitriolic Indians. This is why I think test cricket will never die out. The form that 20-20 actually challenges is the 50 over game. I would rather watch a test match or a T20 game than a one day match nowadays.