| M.S. Dhoni (49), who shared a crucial partnership with Laxman, on Sunday
Ahmedabad: Sitting in his Behala home, Sourav Ganguly can only rue his luck. As the top and middle-order collapsed in neighbouring Motera on the opening day of the final Test, the former captain’s absence was strongly felt. For a while, even chants of ‘Bring back Sourav’, reverberated in the stands.
The sudden illness of Rahul Dravid, still in hospital with diarrhoea, was something none had envisaged, but Sourav’s presence could have been ensured had the national selectors decided to show some foresight.
He was involved in a 121-run stand with Sachin Tendulkar in Delhi ' the highest of the match ' in almost similar circumstances. Clearly, the middle-order lacked the experience of Dravid and Sourav.
It was finally left to V. V. S. Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni to do the rescue act with a 86-run partnership in 132 balls for the sixth wicket. Irfan Pathan later chipped in with an unbeaten cameo that helped the hosts reach 247 for six at close in the Videocon series.
“The aim will be to reach 300 and then push beyond. Laxman has been brilliant. Dhoni and Pathan’s knocks have been equally useful,” said Anil Kumble, who completed 100 Test matches on Sunday.
On the eve of the Test, Greg Chappell had stressed that this wicket would be a battle of wits and patience. On Sunday, while his batsmen lacked application, the limited Lankan bowling put the Indians in a quandary. The diligence and concentration shown by Sourav during his 40 and 39 at the Kotla was what India needed here.
Vaas is not playing because of viral infection. New man Lasith Malinga troubled the Indians with his sling arm action and the bounce he generated, Muttiah Muralidharan took the opportunity to keep the pressure going at the other end.
Virender Sehwag’s luck with the coin may have favoured him on his ‘debut’, but that hardly yielded much advantage at the outset. Gautam Gambhir’s mistimed hook opened the floodgates and the Indian captain fell second ball after lunch.
The openers however can escape some of the blame if one considers the circumstances that preceded the start, which were enough to disturb their concentration. Firstly, the overnight dew that had left the outfield wet resulted in an hour’s delay, and then, an extravaganza in the name of felicitating Kumble and Sachin dragged on for around 20 minutes.
Sachin’s unimpressive 81-minute stay ended when he was surprised by the bounce while both Yuvraj Singh and Mohammed Kaif looked like batsmen in alien territory.
Laxman, however, was all poise and his approach was uncomplicated and delightful. He may have taken 319 minutes and 194 balls for his 71, but the quality of his strokeplay, the purity of his technique and the calm assurance in his temperament came through very well.
Dhoni’s 49 may have come the slam bang way, but that is the way he plays his game and the crowd enjoys it too. He was once hit on the helmet by Lasith Malinga early on in his innings.
Murali, too, tried out his craft, but Dhoni was ready for the challenge, stepping out and hitting over the infield. The 62-ball knock included seven boundaries. The offensive he launched ultimately created an impact on the bowlers’ psyche.
Pathan, on the other hand, was a man riding on confidence. Every shot he hit was timed perfectly.
Murali’s three wickets may seem nothing special in the context that he is expected to make the Indians’ life difficult, but it was Malinga’s attacking style that took the Indians by surprise. His bowling should be a big bonus for the Lankans in this Test.