Now, you can get all the USA Cricket updates via Facebook. Also follow us on Twitter via @dreamcricket
By Suresh Menon
In the last couple of years, India have played Sri Lanka in nine Tests, 26 ODI (with at least two more to come in the current series) and four T20 matches. This neighbourliness is due to their Test ranking of No. 1, an achievement that was followed by the realization that there were no Tests to play for a while.
Sri Lanka were roped in, and one-day internationals against Australia and South Africa were exchanged for Test matches. That feeling of not being able to turn on the television without catching the two teams playing was not something thought up by the Inception band of thieves after all. It was reality. So was the fact that India managed to win a Test match with their weakest bowling attack in at least a decade.
The batting of V V S Laxman, the youngest of the so-called Fab Four, made everything worthwhile for Indian supporters.
Batting at number five calls for a readiness to play the dual role of dour defender and arrant attacker. Should the team begin well, then the number five has to accelerate; if not, he has to hold the innings together, often in the company of tailenders. For so long and so well has Laxman played that role that we have paid him the ultimate compliment spectators can pay a performer – noticing him only when he fails.
Of the many things he has not been given credit for is filling the bowlers with the confidence to bat around him. On the final day of the third Test, while even Sachin Tendulkar played and missed, Laxman looked like he was batting on another planet altogether. One where the ball never spins, the bounce is always true and pacemen bowl short only to give him an opportunity to swivel and hook.
There is a complete lack of anxiety about Laxman’s batting that steadies his partners. Tendulkar settled down after the initial trouble against the leg-and-middle line. Suresh Raina did just enough to convince himself that the treachery of the pitch was no illusion brought about by Laxman’s nonchalance before he too began to bat sensibly. Through it all, Laxman was hardly beaten, and played with so much time it was unreal.
Laxman’s easy going manner and gentlemanly ways disguise a toughness that few can summon up. Early in his career, he decided he would not open and stuck to it even when he struggled to find a regular slot in the middle order. He has taken over 100 catches, mostly in the slips, without fanfare. He has never been in the frame as a captaincy candidate despite his 114 Tests.
Sourav Ganguly was controversial, Rahul Dravid more consistent and Tendulkar is, well, Tendulkar. Indians take Laxman for granted, despite regular reminders that he represents the quintessential Indian batsman – wristy, loose-limbed, and with the rare ability to change his stroke at the last moment. His Kolkata 281 has tended to drown his other achievements, but his latest century was the effort of a mature batsman who has nothing to prove.
The final Test was, however, forgettable for one reason – the commentary.
Great car. Stupendous phone. Incredible bike. The IPLisation of cricket commentary is complete. Thou shalt praise the products of the sponsors at least twice every hour – a bonus if done more often. Is that written into the contracts?
Former internationals tell us on air that if we want to be part of the ‘in’ crowd, we must possess that phone, ride that bike or drive that car – simultaneously if possible. That rustling sound you hear is John Arlott turning over in his grave.