Classy Laxman spurs India

Hyderabadis 96 gives visitors a 302-run lead; bowlers reduce SA to 111/3

Classy Laxman spurs India

Indian cricket’s perennial crisis man responded in characteristically resilient fashion at Kingsmead on Tuesday, driving the visitors’ charge towards a series-levelling victory.

A much-deserved 17th Test century continued to remain elusive as the Hyderabadi was dismissed in the 90s for the second time in five Tests, but his quite brilliant 96 (280m, 171b, 12x4) was a wonderful study in courage, patience, intelligence and no little skill.

Accounting for at least 50 percent of the runs the team garnered on the middle day of the second Test against South Africa, Laxman steered the Indian second-innings to 228 before being last man out, boosting the overall lead to 302.

Set 303 for a series-clinching victory, South Africa stumbled after a strong start to reach 111 for three when bad light halted play. Still 192 adrift, the Proteas have some work ahead on what promises to be a tense fourth day, and while India have their noses that bit ahead, the match is very much in the balance.

Until the clouds gathered shortly after tea, Tuesday provided the best batting conditions of the match so far. An unrelenting sun had taken a lot of life off the surface, but especially first up, there was enough to keep South Africa’s pacers interested.

Overnight 92 for four, India had to ride the early storm through Laxman and Cheteshwar Pujara if they were desirous of setting a competitive target, but it took South Africa just six deliveries to break through.

After a watchful vigil, Pujara climbed high to ride the bounce extracted by Morne Morkel, but an angled bat merely changed the direction of the ball stump-wards. It was a deadly blow, coming as early as it did, but fortunately for India, the calming influence of Laxman was still around.

Laxman has bailed the team out so often in the second innings that it has become his calling card. While his more glamorous batting mates have walked away with the encomiums, he has earned the respect of team-mates and opponents alike with the in-the-trenches resolve he wears like a second skin. AB de Villiers had singled him out as the danger man the previous evening, and Laxman didn’t disappoint him, playing the innings of the Test to date.

There were occasional inside-edges, and a fair few swishes outside off, but otherwise, the 36-year-old was in his elements. His natural timing stood him in wonderful stead as the ball fizzed off his bat once his brought those amazing wrists into play, while his watchful, obdurate defensive play was extremely effective, even if there wasn’t the greatest proximity between feet and the ball.

Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, all aggression, added 48 in the immediacy of Pujara’s fall, not until Zaheer Khan linked up with his ‘batting coach’ did the potentially decisive passage of play unfold. Zaheer began by trying to blast the bowling, but settled down to play admirable second fiddle.

By the time he fell in the second over after tea, he and Laxman had realised 70 (85m, 118b). If India are looking for portents, Zaheer and Laxman had put on the same tally for the same wicket from the same score of 148 for seven in Johannesburg four years back to fashion an Indian victory!

When Graeme Smith and Alviro Petersen set about the bowling at the stage of the chase, batting didn’t look a chore. The South African skipper tore into his nemesis Zaheer, picking up five fours off the left-arm seamer’s three overs to hit him out of the attack. He then got involved in a verbal altercation with S Sreesanth, lost poise in the last over before tea and top-edged a pull from outside off to end a stand of 63 (63m, 76b).

There was further joy for India when Petersen was snapped up by Harbhajan Singh and Hashim Amla played a rare poor stroke, chasing a wide ball from Sreesanth. Jacques Kallis was dropped at leg-gully by Pujara off Harbhajan on nought.  That would have made it 86 for four; instead, Kallis and De Villiers will carry the fight forward when day four unfolds.

ScoreBoard

INDIA (I Innings): 205 all out in 65.1 overs
SOUTH AFRICA (I Innings): 131 all out in 37.2 overs
INDIA (II Innings, O/n: 92/4):
Laxman c Boucher b Steyn    96
(280m, 171b, 12x4)
Pujara b Morkel    10
(80m, 56b, 1x4)
Dhoni c Boucher b Tsotsobe    21
(52m, 35b, 4x4)
Harbhajan c Kallis b Morkel    4
(11m, 7b)
Zaheer c De Villiers b Harris    27
(85m, 63b, 4x4)
Ishant c Amla b Kallis    0
(22m, 16b)
Sreesanth (not out)    0
(10m, 2b)
Extras (B-8, LB-4, W-9)    21
Total (all out, 70.5 overs)    228
Fall of wickets: 1-42 (Sehwag), 2-44 (Vijay), 3-48 (Dravid), 4-56 (Tendulkar), 5-93 (Pujara), 6-141 (Dhoni), 7-148 (Harbhajan), 8-218 (Zaheer), 9-223 (Ishant).
Bowling: Steyn 15.5-1-60-2 (w-2), Morne Morkel 15-1-47-3 (w-5), Tsotsobe 13-3-43-3 (w-1), Jacques Kallis 13-2-30-1 (w-1), Paul Harris 14-2-36-1.
SOUTH AFRICA (II Innings):
Smith c Dhoni b Sreesanth    37
(63m, 38b, 5x4)
Petersen c Pujara b Harbhajan    26
(78m, 45b, 4x4)
Amla c Dhoni b Sreesanth    16
(19m, 16b, 3x4)
Kallis (batting)    12
(48m, 28b, 2x4)
De Villiers (batting)    17
(44m, 38b, 1x6)
Extras (NB-3)    3
Total (for 3 wkts, 27 overs)    111
Fall of wickets: 1-63 (Smith), 2-82 (Petersen), 3-82 (Amla).
Bowling: Zaheer Khan 6-2-25-0, Ishant Sharma 5-0-21-0 (nb-3), S Sreesanth 7-0-30-2, Harbhajan Singh 8-0-29-1, Sachin Tendulkar 1-0-6-0.

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