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What a joy it is to watch VVS Laxman bat! His stroke-play is truly poetry in motion. He is a pure artist. He has been the most elegant batsman in the game for quite sometime now.
He hasn’t lost any of his touch as we witnessed it at the Eden Garden in Kolkata where he plundered his first Test century against South Africa. It was a magnificent knock that delighted his large number of fans at what has been his favourite ground.
It’s not mere coincidence that he has completed 1,000 runs in just nine Tests at the Eden Gardens. He has played a few of the most memorable knocks of his career here with the epic 281 against Australia in 2001 being the standout effort.
India had missed him so much in the previous game in which he couldn’t take part due to injury. His return to the side immensely bolstered the batting line-up that had cracked at Nagpur primarily due to inexperience that had allowed the South African bowlers to get on top of them.
There was plenty of buzz with Laxman coming back into the side in the second Test that India needed to win in order to retain their top ranking. More significantly they also had to prove the point that the odd failure in the Nagpur Test was more due to the non-presence of their stalwarts than any other factor.
There was greater pressure on Laxman to deliver because Rahul Dravid and Yuvraj Singh were still unavailable and he had to fill the vacuum with the likes of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Sachin Tendulkar and Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
There were suggestions to promote Laxman to the number three position in the absence of Dravid, having made the one down position his own for a number of years now.
John Wright, the former Indian coach, firmly believed that sending Laxman at number three would help the cause of the team immensely. After all he and skipper Sourav Ganguly were instrumental in sending him up the order when the team was in dire straits at the same venue against the mighty Aussies nine years ago.
It had proved to be a master stroke with the Hyderabad touch artist rewriting history with a colossal knock of 281 that led the turnaround and India went on to win the Test match from the brink of disaster.
The present Indian think-tank, however, had different ideas and they probably had the conviction that Laxman was to come good at any position. They were proved right.
Murali Vijay, not surprisingly, failed again at number three but by holding Laxman back they had ensured that there was not a big hole in the middle-order. The tactics worked very well once more.
India had very nearly surrendered the initiative by losing three quick wickets in the closing stages of the second day’s play and South Africa were very much in the game at the start of the third day’s proceedings.
It was Laxman’s fluency that tormented the charged up bowlers and their shoulders dropped when the balls were dispatched merrily to every part of the ground. Dhoni kept his company all the way and together they built a magnificent partnership that entertained the big crowd and consolidated India’s position.
I incline to agree with all those experts and critics who believe that India won’t be able to retain the number one ranking in Test cricket. Not because the Indian team carries any real weakness or lacks depth and character.
The reason why they would find it tough to be top ranked side is simple. They have to overcome far too many obstacles than any other team to continue their winning streak despite being in the possession of the best outfit in business.
We have already witnessed how difficult it has been for them to register victories even after dominating the rivals. They were threatened more by the weather in Bangladesh than the team they were confronting.
The weather very nearly ruined their chances of squaring the just concluded Test series against South Africa. It’s quite extraordinary how the Nature comes to halt the Indian progress so frequently. No other team has to be wary of such factors.
Yes only weather could have saved South Africa in the Kolkata Test after they had a conceded a monumental first innings lead with over two days to spare. Obviously Harbhajan Singh and Amit Mishra were to be deadlier with men round the bat on a pitch offering them more assistance than in the first innings.
There was only one result possible, unless outside factors intervened, once Mahendra Singh Dhoni had declared the innings in the closing stages of the third day’s play.
The first sign of the outside factors came into the equation right away as the light faded dramatically after just five deliveries of the South African innings and the Indian bowlers were deprived of the opportunity of a crack at the batsmen who must have been fatigued after having done leather chasing for almost two days.
Then the heavens opened and considerable amount of time was lost on the fourth day. There had not been any signs of rain in the earlier part of the series but it just came when the South Africans needed to get some relief.
India had to take seven wickets on the fifth and final day to translate their dominance into victory. The morning was bright and sunny but the injury to their spearhead Zaheer Khan meant the quarter of their bowling power had been lost before taking the field.
Not surprisingly the Indians were frustrated by each and every player who came into bat. Even last man Morne Morkel batted with the steely determination of Geoff Boycott while Hashim Amla appeared to be in greater control of the situation than even Don Bradman would have been at any point of his career.
History is witness to the fact that the oddest things have happened against India. It would have had come as no surprise if the South Africans had escaped with a draw even after having been outplayed in every department of the game.
Well India just managed to take the last wicket that helped them win the Test, level the series and retain the number one rank. Dhoni was obviously a very relieved man when Harbhajan took the final wicket with barely a few minutes play remaining.
Syed Khalid Mahmood has had passion for writing and sports since childhood. After having edited wall papers and magazines in his student life, he had started contributing to various international publications from an early age.
He joined the mainstream journalism in 1987 and his first book was published later the same year. After having studied at the famed institutions like Cadet College Petaro and Delhi College, he graduated in civil engineering from the prestigious NED University of Engineering & Technology, Karachi, in 1986.
He has earned greater fame and recognition in the field of media being acclaimed as a leading international sports writer, having worked for some of the eminent newspapers like The Frontier Post and The News International besides a brief stint with The Mississauga News. He has also appeared regularly as an analyst on various television channels.
He has already authored 12 books viz Asian Glory (2012); Reflections (2010); Cricket Fever: A History of Pakistan-India Tours (2008); Mission Caribbean: A Guide to ICC Cricket World Cup 2007 (2007); World Cup 2003: Top of the Charts (2005); Spotlight on World Cup 2003 (2005); World Cup 1999: So Near Yet So Far (2000); Pakistan’s Sports Greats (1997); Pakistan: The Land of World Champions (1995); Pakistan’s Triumph in World Cup 1992 (1993); The Caribbean Challenge: A History of Pakistan-West Indies matches (1989) and Focus on World Cup (1987 and 1994).
He has had an active social life throughout. Having founded The Young Champs in 1984 he became the District Secretary of Rotary International District 3271 (Pakistan) in 2015-16. Besides being the Founder President of the NED Alumni Association, he is also the Vice President of the Delhi College & Schools Old Boys Association. He is also a member of The Petarian Association, Arts Council of Pakistan, Karachi Press Club, Pakistan Engineering Council and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists.
His write-ups are carried by innumerable portals and websites across the world while his exclusive articles on the web, having grown in popularity, could be accessed on his blog at www.skmsports.com
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