October 5, 2010

Zaheer, Laxman script another fabulous Test win


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Man of the Match, Zaheer Khan, and Man of the Moment, VVS Laxman, played the pivotal role in guiding India to their narrowest win in Test cricket at the PCA Stadium, Mohali, on October 5.

The match, lasting four and a half days, went to the wire and it lived to the reputation of being another grueling battle between Australia and India. In fact as Ricky Ponting acknowledged in the presentation ceremony it was the closest of all Test match he had played in over the last many years.

Who says Test cricket is dead? I hope the functionaries of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) would feel proud of their belated decision to include a two-Test series instead of having just limited-overs games during Australia’s visit to India.

The cricket enthusiasts could not have desired a closer Test match. Both the teams came up with wonderful performance to stay afloat and there was plenty to cheer about for the spectators throughout the game.

India did well to stage a comeback after shocking fielding display on the first day. Skipper Mahandra Singh Dhoni was the chief culprit, having floored as many as three catches. No matter what he might say the experts believed that the disease of continuous cricket was taking its toll and Dhoni’s poor wicket-keeping was a result of the very little time he got to spend in Mohali because of his preoccupations in the Champions League Twenty20 tournament.

Zaheer, who reversed the ball brilliantly, was chiefly responsible for not allowing Australia to build an imposing total despite the generosity of the Indian fielders. Bowling the visitors out for 428 after spilling half a dozen catches wasn’t a bad effort. Mind you they had to pay heavy price for dropping those sitters.

India, with Sachin Tendulkar and Suresh Raina in full control, appeared poised for a decisive first innings lead on the third afternoon but an amazing collapse found them 23 run short of Australia’s total.

Many people thought that the match was heading towards a draw as the first innings of the two teams had consumed full three days. But I always thought that the game was on because the Australian batting lacked the strength to compile runs on the wearing track.

Ishant Sharma bowled his heart out on the fourth morning, despite carrying an injury, to rock the Australians. Then the spinners also did their job and Zaheer’s fiery spell cleaned the tail to set the home a rather comfortable target of 216.

As they say no fourth innings target is small the Indians made a mess of it in the final session and the loss of four key wickets tilted the balance towards Australia. India were still 161 away from victory when the stumps were drawn after a dramatic fourth day’s play.

India’s hopes rested on the shoulders of Tendulkar on the fifth day. But not surprisingly he fell short of expectations again. Dhoni was as miserable with the bat as he was behind the stumps.

Laxman changed the complexion of the game with his elegant stroke-play and the Australian bowlers ran short of ideas. He found an able partner in number 10 Sharma who was not afraid to watch the ball till the last moment.

With tension mounting as India inched closer, the game opened up with Sharma’s dismissal. But Laxman drove India home in what must have been one of his greatest knocks yet.


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