Adelaide: The best batsman. The No.1 bowler. The highest ranked team... Actually, Test ratings are a dime a dozen, yet nobody has been assessing cricketers on dependability. Should that be introduced, perfectionist-craftsman Rahul Dravid and flamboyant-artist V.V.S. Laxman will be favourites for the top spots.
No matter how grudgingly, the Australians too will vote for this exceptionally committed pair.
Clearly, Ricky Ponting must have had a hunch or else he wouldn’t have declared “I don’t even want to think about it,” when somebody asked if he feared a repeat of the 2000-2001 Eden partnership between Team India vice-captain Dravid and Laxman.
That was on Saturday evening when the pair had only added 95 (for the fifth wicket) by stumps on Day II. Eventually, Dravid and Laxman put on a record-rewriting 303 — the first ever 300-plus stand overseas for any wicket — to throw open the second Test at the Oval here.
Laxman got out during the day, for a trademark stroke-filled 148 (356 minutes, 282 balls, 18x4), but Dravid takes to Day IV on 199 (521 minutes, 385 deliveries, 19x4, 1x6). The Hyderabadi did have two let-offs (66 and 139), courtesy Ponting, but his sixth hundred will remain special. For Dravid, it’s hundred No.16.
Thirty-three months ago, the pair added 376 to set up that believe-it-or-not win in Calcutta. This time, they were as composed and found gaps between slips, in the off-cordon and between mid-wicket and square-leg. For the handsome contingent of Indian fans, there definitely was much to cheer.
And, yes, there was a lesson for the generally shrewd Steve Waugh: Among other things, placing a short mid-on (for Laxman) is neither going to ‘intimidate’ nor frustrate.
“They’ve been outstanding... The range of Laxman’s shots is amazing. As for Dravid, I salute his mental toughness... To keep pulling India out of the woods, in different conditions, deserves the highest praise,” applauded former Australian captain Greg Chappell, himself an icon.
Speaking to The Telegraph, he continued: “Really, in time, I expect both to feature among the top five of their generation... Right now, they are knocking hard at that door...”
India, of course, are breathing easy after being knocked about for the first two days. Captain Sourav Ganguly, though, isn’t looking too far ahead. “First, let’s see where we finish in our innings,” he remarked, quickly adding: “There aren’t adequate words to praise Dravid and Laxman...”
In Australian coach John Buchanan’s opinion, the Test is at a “very interesting stage” and both teams can fancy their chance.
The Les Burdett-prepared wicket has been a beauty, but the locals have doubts whether it will remain so on Day V. That, then, is the sole worry for India — not that any well-nursed track can quickly deteriorate into a minefield.
The bigger worry is Australia’s. After all, quick Brad Williams has hurt his left shoulder, while fielding, and may not have any further role. In any case, the home side has struggled for breakthroughs. Jason Gillespie did have a superb first spell (7-4-5-0), but the rest... Even Parthiv Patel hammered Stuart MacGill for three successive boundaries.
[The Australians’ despair, by the way, coincided with the banned Shane Warne’s nets comeback at the indoor facility. He bowled under Terry Jenner’s watchful eyes and, in a fine gesture, one-time teammate (and world record-holder) Ian Healy stood behind the stumps.]
Having authored three double hundreds, including one as recently as October, Dravid isn’t new to being in the 190s. Still, there’s a difference between 199 and 200 and, so, he would have been happier had that one run also been accumulated in the last over.
“Will I sleep well' Absolutely... I’m tired,” Dravid quipped, pointing out that not putting himself under “extra pressure” had made life less complicated. “I haven’t been reminding myself I had to make amends for 1999-2000 (when he managed just 93 in six innings)... Indeed, I wasn’t hassled despite falling for one in the first innings at the Gabba...” he said.
Dravid’s sequence of (Test) scores this season, prior to the current innings, reads: 222 and 73 (Motera), 13 and 5 (Mohali), 1 and 43 not out in Brisbane. In fact, Laxman’s is more impressive — 64 and 44 (Motera), an unbeaten 104 and 67 not out in Mohali, 75 and an unbeaten 24 at the Gabba.
Unusually, Dravid reached his hundred with a hooked six off Gillespie. Later, he laughed: “Wasn’t my best shot, but I got the desired result...” Incidentally, Dravid revealed having been driven by the desire to feature on the Oval board listing the centurions from overseas.
Now, he is a mere seven short of equalling Ravi Shastri’s record of the highest individual score against Australia. Shastri, who is around on a TV assignment, maintained he would have “no regrets” on losing his position to the vice-captain.
Of the three partners Dravid lost during the day, a seemingly tired Laxman was caught at the wicket, while Ajit Agarkar went pulling. Parthiv, who produced a cameo of sorts, was (for a change) smartly taken by Ponting.
Significantly, taking guard on 43, Dravid extended his innings by 361 minutes and faced 278 balls on Day III. He struck 14 boundaries, besides that six off Australia’s best bowler. During the sunshine-blessed day, Team India totalled 297.
Brett Lee tipped
Meanwhile, tearaway Brett Lee is tipped to be recalled for the third Test, in Melbourne, from December 26. Lee has ended his injury-forced break by turning out for New South Wales in the Pura Cup.