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India's new batting star is an Azharuddin clone - by Kuldip Lal


CALCUTTA, March 15 (AFP) - Mohammad Azharuddin may be lost to cricket for the wrong reasons, but India could not have asked for a more worthy replacement than Vangipurappu Venkatsai Laxman.

The wristy strokeplay of Laxman, toasted by an grateful nation for his magnificent 281 in the second Test against Australia here, is reminiscent of the former Indian captain's graceful batting at the wicket.

Comparisons between Laxman and Azharuddin, who is serving a life ban for his alleged involvement in match-fixing, are not limited to both players hailing from the southern city of Hyderabad.

The 26-year-old concedes that at the start of his career, he consciously tried to copy Azharuddin's elegant style at the wicket.

"He was so good to watch that many of us at school and college wanted to play like him," Laxman said.

The pupil has now overtaken the teacher after playing one of the great innings of modern Test cricket to trigger an astonishing comeback by India against the world champions.

Laxman scored more runs in one knock than the entire Indian team managed in the previous three outings in the series -- 176 and 219 at Bombay and 171 in the first innings here.

Not only did Laxman overtake Sunil Gavaskar's Indian record of 236, but he also notched up the highest Test score on Indian soil, surpassing West Indian Rohan Kanhai's 256 way back in 1958.

"I can't say that it is a dream come true, because I never dreamt I would overtake a legend like Gavaskar," Laxman said.

Former Australian captain Ian Chappell said Laxman has the talent to match the skills of both Gavaskar and West Indian Brian Lara.

"A chanceless double century is something special but when it comes in circumstances when the team is down and out, it becomes exceptional," he said.

"This innings was as good as Lara's 277 at the Sydney Cricket Ground a few years ago."

Muddled selection policies have allowed the gifted batsman to play just 21 Tests since his debut against South Africa in Ahmedabad in 1996.

He was constantly shuffled around the batting order during the last two home series against South Africa and Zimbabwe, but put his foot down when the selectors asked him to open the innings.







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