Confluence of style and swagger

Dhoni, Laxman join forces in the middle again to torment bowlers

MS Dhoni celebrates after bringing up his fifth Test ton in Kolkata on Tuesday. AFP

VVS Laxman and Mahendra Singh Dhoni are a study in contrast, but with bats in hand together in the middle, they complement each other quite superbly. Laxman bleeds the bowlers almost apologetically with a little nip here, a little cut there. Dhoni makes them flinch physically with every bruising blow that cascades from the heavy-duty willow he wields as a broadsword.

For the second time in two innings at the Eden Gardens, the unlikely duo joined hands in a wonderful coming together of opposites. Against South Africa in February last year, they added an unseparated 259 for the seventh wicket to set the tone for a series-levelling, number one spot-retaining victory in the second game of a two-Test series. On Tuesday against the West Indies, they put on 224 of the very best, marked by effortless milking of the bowling by both, and sparkling strokeplay from the Indian captain.

Laxman’s is a non-violent approach as he coaxes and caresses the ball into gaps. Such finesse is lost on Dhoni, as fearsome a striker as there is in world cricket. Laxman is a boundary-hitter to whom running between the wickets is no more than a gentle distraction. Dhoni’s game is based on equal parts of battering the ball to the fence and frenetic, frenzied running.

There is always the possibility, in a tandem where one man is outstanding between the wickets and the other far slower, of misunderstandings and mix-ups. When Laxman and Dhoni are together, however, there is not a moment of unpleasantness, no hesitancy, no ‘yes-nos’. That’s credit to Dhoni, because for all his energy, he understands that his partner is no spring chicken or a hare between the stumps, and he tempers his own game accordingly.

The twirling rapier and the scything willow drove the West Indies ragged on Tuesday. Given that Dhoni made 144 out of that 224-run alliance, it’s not difficult to see who the more dominant partner was. Laxman, not given to ego, was merely happy watching the Dhoni mayhem from the best seat in the ground.

“Whenever MS hits a six, he says he didn’t connect the ball properly. I just start laughing because he clears the boundary easily,” Laxman laughed as he reflected on their association. “In the last Test match here against South Africa, we had a similar partnership where both of us remained unbeaten. It was the same today, though MS did get out towards the end.

“When we needed quick runs, it was easy for me because Dhoni was at the other end. Common sense says take a single and give him as much strike as possible, because he is definitely a cleaner hitter than me,” he added, with a self-deprecating grin. “It’s always great to see Dhoni, and to bat alongside him. He is a brilliant batsman, he puts the bowlers under pressure right from the word go. It’s great to watch him from the other end.”

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