August 8, 2010

Another Laxman special defies odds


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

V V S Laxman continues to be not only the most stylish batsman of the generation but his ability to come good in crisis makes be truly special. What a gem of a knock he played at P Sara Oval in Colombo to guide India to a comfortable victory in the end in the third and final Test.

Mind you the pitch was doing all sort of tricks and the Sri Lankans bowlers, as usual while taking on India, were not prepared to give an inch. The scenario had become even grimmer for the visitors when Sachin Tendulkar got out in the most unfamiliar of fashions, gloving a seemingly innocuous delivering going down leg, and Laxman was not fully fit.

The century partnership between Tendulkar and Laxman had put India on course of victory but the match had become wide open in the afternoon session of the final day and the hosts had more than a just a glimmer of hope running away with the Test series 2-0.

Suresh Raina, playing only his second Test, joined Laxman at the fall of Tendulkar’s wicket and it were still the early days of their stand when the latter broke down to the extent of needing the help of a runner.

Virender Sehwag, who was chiefly instrumental in putting India into a tight corner with a dreaded duck on the fourth evening, returned to the field to do the duties of a runner for Laxman, just having completed his half century.

The limping Laxman was in obvious discomfort when stroking the ball but he knew the significance of his wicket that prompted him to keep going despite the pains in various parts of his body.

He showed tremendous courage by hooking and pulling Lasith Malinga whenever the speedster pitched it short on or outside leg stump. He was not afraid to come forward to middle the ball on a track whose bounce could not be trusted from day one.

Laxman must have known that his departure from the scene would have opened the floodgates for Sri Lanka as the batting conditions would have been even tougher for a new batsman at the crease.

Only Mahendra Singh Dhoni was left padded up in the dressing room among the specialist batsmen and India could have lost the plot very quickly in the event of the fall of another wicket.

Laxman had the dual responsibility of not staying their in the middle but also knock off the runs in order to bring the target down before more hiccups. He played superbly all along and it was a treat to watch his covering driving against the spin duo of Suraj Randiv and Ajantha Mendis on the weary track. Not many batsmen in the world would have dared hitting so boldly.

Raina also deserved a special mention for having rotated the strike besides playing a few adventurous shots to take the pressure off Laxman, who got to his hundred with another brilliant flick.

Statistically it was Laxman’s first century in the fourth innings of a Test match but he has certainly played quite a few better knocks than this one in more demanding conditions in his illustrious career.

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Sajjad makes history of sorts in Thailand


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

Mohammad Sajjad made Pakistan proud by creating history of sorts when he became the first Asian wildcard to capture a Thai ranking title, winning the SangSom Korat Cup 2010 on August 7.

Pakistan’s premier cueist was crowned as the champion at Klang Plaza Jomsurang in Nakhon Ratchasima city with a thrilling 5-4 victory over local favourite, Passakorn Suwannawat, in the final with the frame scores being 83-7, 0-98, 86-7, 71-40, 0-96, 18-68, 69-41, 14-78, 64-31. As expected it turned out be a close battle having kept the crowd on tenterhooks most of the time.

The victory earned Sajjad a handsome purse of 100,000 baht, while Passakorn had to be content with a cash prize of 50,000 baht for having ended as the runner-up but there was consolation for him in the shape of another 15,000 baht for scoring the highest break of the tournament, a total clearance of 142 points recorded in the quarter-finals.

"This was my toughest match of the tournament. I have been stretched to the limit before in the event but then I was not facing a rival of Passakorn's class,” the triumphant Sajjad remarked after outwitting the fancied rival in the final.

"I played very well in the beginning and remained positive about my chances of winning throughout the match. I gave him an opportunity at a wrong juncture and that helped him recover tremendously," he added.

Passakorn, who had entered the final as the obvious favourite after his consistent performance in the earlier games, was not short of praise for the new champion either.

"Sajjad is a very good player. I expected a good fight from him and he did give me one. I missed a number of chances that I should have taken towards the end of the match and that cost me the match," he complimented.

Sajjad, the 2010 Asian Championship runner-up, had created a sensation by toppling the reigning Thailand number one and former world champion Noppadon Noppachorn 4-2 in the semifinals with the scores of 18-57, 65-21, 121-10, 105-9, 17-70, 74-8. It has not been since 2005, when Moh Keen Ho of Malaysia had entered the final, that an Asian wildcard has earned a crack on a Thai ranking event title.

Sajjad was delighted to have overpowered Thailand’s top cueist. "I am so happy to have won today. He is one of the Thai Asian Games team players and it is a good morale booster for me in preparations for the Games in China later this year,” he was quoted as saying.

"I had not been playing as well as I wanted to and it was the 70-plus break in the third frame that got me going,” he reckoned.

The Korat Cup 2010 had commenced on August 2 with India’s number three Kamal Chawla and Bahrain's top cueist Habib Sabah being the other wild card entrants besides Sajjad, the eventual winner.

Sajjad had started his campaign by edging out Thai veteran Somporn Kunthawung 4-3 before registering another lucky 4-3 victory win over Thailand’s number 14 Pisit Chansri in the quarter-finals.

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