Virtuosos, tyros in sync

Command displays fashioned by veterans and young guns alike

VVS Laxman’s unbeaten 73, made under pressure and in great physical discomfort, set the tone for India’s domination.

What, however, can’t be doubted is India’s unquestionable superiority over the Antipodeans in the last one month or so. Notwithstanding the closeness of all the three matches, the two Tests and the one-dayer, the hosts proved that they had men with mettle to wriggle out of every crunch situation -- be it VVS Laxman in Mohali, Sachin Tendulkar in Bangalore or Virat Kohli in the Visakhapatnam ODI.

Much as this series will be remembered for Tendulkar’s ‘Bradmanesque’ way of collecting runs – 403 in four innings at over 134 – it would be equally reminisced for Laxman’s over-my-body determination to bat India to victory in the Mohali Test. Despite Laxman’s heroics under great physical strain, the match could have gone either way. It was just a matter of just one ball. But without the Hyderabadi’s ballet, the game will have headed in only one direction -- in Australia’s favour.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that much like his epochal 281 in Kolkata in 2001, his battling 73 not out in Mohali decided the course of the series. Once India ensured that the Border-Gavaskar Trophy stayed at home, MS Dhoni’s men assumed gigantic proportions, culminating in an eight-wicket drubbing of Ricky Ponting and company in the second Test.

While Laxman orchestrated the Mohali triumph, Tendulkar dominated in Bangalore with a scintillating double ton and an unbeaten half-century. The maestro also reached his 14,000 Test runs, extending the gap between him and the chasing pack.

While Tendulkar, Laxman and Rahul Dravid proved once again that they are still irreplaceable, the youngsters showed they are capable of filling the void. Murali Vijay, Suresh Raina and debutant Cheteshwara Pujara may never be able to replicate what the aforementioned troika has achieved over the years, but the young guns demonstrated that India need not lose sleep over their batting future.

Zaheer on song

Undoubtedly, India’s bowling was far more experienced and better equipped than the Australians in the prevailing conditions. Harbhajan Singh was at best handy as was Pragyan Ojha, but they were way better than a harassed Nathan Hauritz while Zaheer Khan once again turned out to be Dhoni’s main weapon. Ishant Sharma was brilliant in patches and can form a potent attack with Zaheer, but the Delhiite requires more consistency.

In the only ODI, Kohli constructed a well-designed century and drove home the point once again that he is not player with a liking only for flashy cameos. That augurs well for India in the long run. It was a shame that the opening and final matches in Kochi and Goa had to be called off due to rains, but the middle game showed in abundance the spunk India have in a high-scoring entertainer.

The Test series defeat meant Ponting, rested for the ODIs, returned home without having led Australia to a Test victory in his third visit to this country as captain. A winless record in seven Tests will sure rankle the right-hander for a long time, and that he managed to score three fifties after years of struggle in Indian conditions would have come as little consolation for the Tasmanian.

The Aussies have always struggled against quality Indian spin bowling, but in the last two series, they have been largely undone by the pacemen, especially Zaheer who is virtually unplayable once he starts getting the ball to reverse. That 40 of the 69 wickets to fall in the two games went to fast bowlers gave an indicator of the changing patterns of Tests here.

A positive development of the tour was it generated great interest despite remaining almost incident-free. Whoever thought that Test cricket was a dying species should visit the Chinnaswamy stadium the next time these two rivals face off. The near-capacity crowd on all five days reaffirmed that Test cricket is truly alive and kicking. The bigger cause, however, the two well-fought Tests served was that they lifted the dark clouds that had engulfed the game following the spot-fixing scandal involving the Pakistani players.

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