The thorn in Australia’s side

Mohali, India v Australia. Day 5, India on 122-7 and needing 94 runs to win.

Harbhajan Singh comes to the crease on a king pair.

2 balls later, having managed to get off the mark, he fends a short ball from Doug Bollinger off his glove through to Ricky Ponting at slip.

At 124 for 8 and still needing 92 to win, that looked like it was pretty much curtains for India.

In the book Pundits From Pakistan, Rahul Bhattacharya writes that when VVS Laxman is batting, the window of the comm box turns “a delicate shade of rose”. Today he was less the rose and more the thorn, rigid with back pain and grim determination and spiky of temper, screaming with fury at Pragyan Ojha for not taking a single during their last wicket partnership. India were 76-5 when he came out to bat with Suresh Raina as his runner and he proceeded to work his way deep into Australia’s twitching hide.

Wincing with pain after twisting to put away a Mitchell Johnson delivery during his 81-run partnership with Ishant Sharma, he kept his head while at the other end his partners were losing theirs (Dhoni’s demise in particular being down to the almost inevitable confusion caused by the combination of a runner and a sense of desperation).

Sharma seems to have rediscovered the fact he can take wickets, and now he was showing he could wield a bat as well. India were 162-8 at lunch and needed 54 more runs to win; Sharma was on 14, Laxman 2 away from his half century, though for him physiotherapy and painkillers would probably have taken precedence over food.

A gloriously swivel-wristed pull off Ben Hilfenhaus brought up Laxman’s 50, and by the time Sharma perished for 31 to an lbw shout that looked plumb in real time but on replay seemed to be going down leg (another argument for UDRS at all Test matches, surely), only 11 more were required.

11 runs, 1 wicket. A simple equation, a task still verging on the impossible. Laxman had understandably little confidence in Ojha’s ability with the bat and so singles were turned down, hurry-ups issued, obscenities yelled in shrieking desperation. Mid-pitch conferences were held after every ball and 3 sets of gloves punched.

The ending came amid frantic chaos as a result of 2 leg-byes with 3 results possible. Laxman, surely now running on adrenaline alone, ran cheering towards coach Gary Kirsten as the rest of the India team charged onto the field to congratulate and celebrate with their wounded, conquering hero.

Laxman has done this sort of thing before, carrying the burden of rescuing his team like a fire-fighter with a smoke victim over his shoulder fighting his way out of a burning building, but unlike Eden Gardens in 2001 the stadium at Mohali was almost empty. If ever an occasion demanded a raucous, gladiatorial crowd cheering their team on to victory it was surely this one.

Given such great drama, it is a shame that this is only a 2-match series and that the Border Gavaskar Trophy has already been decided. The two teams meet next at Bangalore two days hence.

2 Responses to “The thorn in Australia’s side”

  1. Soulberry says:

    Australia didn’t swivel him enough I thought. The torsional pain would have induced errors from Lax. Maybe McGrath would have done that….made him play on the leg side or attack his body. Standing up with a stiff back and playing the shots on the rise with minimal bending, avoiding reaching outside the off stump (his known weakness) because of bad back and the off stump line, worked fine for Laxman actually. Australia missed a serious trick there.

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