Tag Archives: VVS Laxman

Among the Ruins

This masonry is wondrous; fates broke it
courtyard pavements were smashed; the work of giants is decaying.
Roofs are fallen, ruinous towers,
the frosty gate with frost on cement is ravaged,
chipped roofs are torn, fallen,
undermined by old age. The grasp of the earth possesses
the mighty builders, perished and fallen,
the hard grasp of earth, until a hundred generations
of people have departed. Often this wall,
lichen-grey and stained with red, experienced one reign after another,
remained standing under storms; the high wide gate has collapsed.
Still the masonry endures in winds cut down …*

An archaeologist at work at the Oval yesterday surveying the third day of the fourth Test match between England and India would have seen a single wall, upright and unscathed by anything that time had thrown or bowled at it, evidence of the considerable skill and craftsmanship of a great civilization.

About the base of the wall he would have noticed fallen columns, single capping stones, dismantled steps, smashed arches and overturned cornices littering the ground; evidence of the destruction wielded against that civilization by some invading storm of vandals.  

This was not another find of the remnants of the Indian bowling, but the relics of the once great cultural expression of cricket which was Indian batting whose lyric verse no cricket lover can have ever tired of enjoying.

Rain took nearly four hours of time out of the day’s play but this forced England to declare at 591 for 6.  Bell had reached his first ‘double’ in Test cricket before perishing to the sweep against Raina for 235 (in 487 minutes and 364 balls).  Morgan had damaged his Test match reputation a little further and Bopara had done all that was required of him in personally testing circumstances.

India sheltered in their dressing room throughout the delay in play, either recovering from the pummelling they had received in the field or in dread of the pummelling they were about to receive when batting, or both.

England in contrast manifested their testosterone when going through their full pre-match preparations on the drying outfield.

Once again the Indiam batting line up had to be altered as Gambhir recovered from a concussion acquired when thumping the back of his head very hard as he stumbled backwards in a failed attempt at a catch the day before.

This necessitated Dravid opening once more, but it should not necessarily have necessitated VVS Laxman batting at number three again, but inexplicably it did.

Sehwag taking first strike untypically watched a couple of deliveries from Anderson go down the off-side before hitting the next two to the boundary in a more typical Sehwagian fashion.  All hearts were raised by the hope of witnessing this special batsman lead India’s counter attack against the Vandal horde, but Anderson was setting him up for the one that comes back and he was duly trapped LBW like a novice.

Laxman was accordingly sacrificed like some gambit with a pawn.  Who exactly is responsible for squandering the potential of this great middle order batsman against the new ball?

Tendulka arrived to another standing ovation as the crowd, keen to the history of events, willed him to the rather artificial milestone (or millstone) of a hundred international hundreds. 

This giant of all-time was all-care and all-attention but he was twice struck ducking under balls that were not that short, once on the helmet and once in the ribs.   It was an uncharacteristic awkwardness and discomfit, but he met the blow to his head with an embarrassed smile and then a perfect on-drive for four.  All might be well, thought the historically minded crowd.

But an all-or-nothing sweep him off his length approach to Swann, who came on to bowl salivating like one of Pavlov’s dogs, was fraught with danger.  He must have calculated that the risk was worth it.  It revealed the Indian estimation of the wicket and the threat that the off-spinner presents, but the odds were always against it answering the destructive challenge of Swann the Terrible, and it was not long before Sachin bent his knee again and gloved the ball over his head to a waiting slip.

All who slaver are not fools.

Raina’s humiliation continued with a 40 minute duck that showed him confounded by movement and then lured by flight to over-balance and be stumped by a quick handed Prior, the batsman’s toe finding only a precarious perch on the line.

England took 5 Indian wickets in two hours (including a nightwatchman). Fifteen therefore remain to be demolished and reduced to rubble by England in two days. Swann’s figures are 10 overs, three maidens, 3 for 27.

The Wall remains 57, the only lasting evidence of a shattered civilization.

* extract from “The Ruin“, an 8th-century Old English poem from the Exeter Book by an unknown author.

N.B. The Squire has been called to Town and Third Man’s valeting services are required.  His Grace has not revealed whether this journey is in response to a call from the Governor of the Bank of England, a secretive someone in Downing Street or Duncan Fletcher, but further morning reports of deeds at the Oval will not be forth coming.

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Knight-time at Trent Bridge

Cricket is a game of bat and ball and therefore, if a side is to lose, it must be beaten twice-over.  This is cricket’s erudite expression of the adage, ‘It ain’t over ‘til the fat lady sings.’

During the course of the third day of the second Test between England and India, the Indian bowlers were well and truly beaten. 

England began what for them should have been an anxious day 43 runs behind India with one wicket down and an important batsman, Trott, hors de combat.

But they ended it having scored 417 runs for the loss of only 5 wickets with a total of 441 for 6 – giving them a startling and commanding lead of 374 with more to come.

After Strauss had been unhorsed with the lost ground yet to be retaken, Bell first and Pietersen later made a mockery of the perceived difficulties of the batting conditions.  

There followed a day of carnage and mayhem. 

As soon as India had unseated one opponent his replacement picked up the fallen lance and took forward the advance with yet more zeal and vigour.

In England’s list the pugnacious Swann comes into the tilt-yard at 10 and the belligerent Broad, who transformed England’s fortunes in their first innings, has yet to bat.

It is the interminable belligerence of the batting, with its ricochet of the West Indians and the Australians in their pomp, that will have done so much psychological injury to India.

Theirs was a weakened bowling attack.  Not only is Khan missing, but Singh was unable to bowl more than 9 half-hearted overs at a stage in the match when a physically and mentally robust spinner should have bowled 30 or 40.  

Yet, the dismissal of Trott caught off the gloves from a steeply rising delivery from Kumar that was a repeat of one earlier in the day which bounced over the gloves of Dhoni standing up to the same bowler, is evidence that the spite has not been rolled and baked out of this wicket entirely.

However, the day will be remembered for an incident that occurred from the final delivery before tea when Morgan hit the ball to the midwicket boundary and, owing to a mixture of the confusion caused unintentionally by the boundary fielder, Kumar, and the tiredness and sudden break in concentration on the part of Bell (137 at the time), the batsman left his ground for the sanctuary of tea, believing the ball to have gone for four and thus to be ‘dead’.

Kumar unsure whether the ball had reached the ‘ropes’ returned the ball in leisurely fashion, via the wicket keeper, to short leg who calmly removed the bails and appealed.

Bell was given out amid the taunts and jeers of an unattractive crowd whose belligerence easily matched that of England’s batting.

Foot soldiers will say that the valid appeal should have stood.  The cavalry will say that Bell’s error was a misunderstanding and therefore, in the spirit in which cricket is played, the appeal should have been withdrawn.

Following a visit to the Indian dressing room by Strauss and Flower, Dhoni, with the support of his side, chivalrously withdrew the appeal and Bell resumed his assault on the Indian bowling after an interval extended by this diplomacy.

Whether this incident adversely affected the performance of India in the final session or whether it was plain exhaustion, England plundered 187 runs after tea with Prior hacking 64 in 55 balls and Bresnan 47 in 66.

Rahul Dravid, acting as spokesperson for Team India, had evidently been reading The Waning of the Middle Ages in which Johan Huizinga identifies the source of the chivalrous idea to be ‘pride aspiring to beauty, and formalized pride giving rise to a conception of honour, which is the pole of noble life’, told reporters, “It is nice to play the game in the right spirit.”

But chivalry is also a social mechanism for the avoidance of blood-and-treasure-sapping feuds, and the maintenance of dignity amongst a self-preserving elite.

Without questioning the upright motives of India’s senior players, who clearly felt a deep unease at the nature of Bell’s dismissal, the decision was made against the background hubub of a crowd making naked its aggressive intent and the buzz of half the commentariat who were already challenging the honour of this tourney’s visiting combatants.

After his innings of 159, Bell can place his lineage without presumption beside that of Tendulka, Dravid and Laxman in the Peerage – a high rank indeed.

The prospect is dark for India, but these esteemed knights and their fellows will tell themselves that in cricket the batsmen must be beaten too.

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Bernoulli is Key to Second Test

It is possible to comprehend a game of cricket in terms of resource management. 

The 101st Test encounter between England and India reached the half way stage in terms of wickets available to each side shortly after five o’clock on day two of five possible days – that is, in a touch under two-fifths of the available time.

Cricketers talk about a game being ‘in a hurry’.  This game is in the type of hurry that the hare was in when, wakened from a deep slumber beneath a shady tree by an intruding sense of unease, it spied the tortoise up-ahead a human foot from the finish line, and sped off flustered and unsteady, disorientated by the unfamiliar condition of the pursuing rather than the pursued.

The batsmen in this Test have been similarly disorientated and taken into unfamiliar territory by the nature of the Trent Bridge wicket that they are playing on and the characteristics of the liquid (air) through which the ball is travelling.

Help was at hand thanks to the presence in the ground of Professor Julius Sumner Miller.  (Third Man, on calmer reflection, may have been deceived by some fiendish impersonator in fancy dress.)

“Why is it so?” the batsmen could have asked the good Professor when the ball swung late or did not do so, or when the ball reared with the force of a Harrier jet taking off from aircraft carrier in a heavy sea or did so next delivery with the feebleness of a Tiger Moth.

With what passion Sumner Miller could have demonstrated in either dressing room the principle of Bernoulli with its commonsense-defying effects of pressure and temperature on liquids!

“My view is this,” the Professor might have explained to those Project Managers, Flower and Fletcher, “We teach nothing. We do not teach cricket nor do we teach cricketers. What is the same thing: No one is taught anything! Here lies the folly of this business. We try to teach somebody nothing. This is a sorry endeavour for no one can be taught a thing.  What we do, if we are successful, is to stir interest in the matter at hand, awaken enthusiasm for it, arouse a curiosity, kindle a feeling, fire up the imagination.”

Professional batsmen rarely show their emotions.  They discover early in their career the value of inscrutability.  They show no pain when hit.  They communicate no admiration when beaten by the bowler’s guile.

However, in this match we have seen more expressions of shock and awe from the batsmen than in a whole career, such has been the volatility produced by the extraordinary playing conditions.

Stuart Broad took six wickets for 46 in 24.1 overs.  He even took a hattrick, a rare enough event in Test cricket.  Yet long after his feat has been forgotten, the memory of VVS Laxman and Raul Dravid batting in these conditions in the morning session will remain etched on the memory.

93 runs they put on, most of them in boundaries.  Dravid, taming the willful ball as he shepherded it through an imaginary gap in that hurdled fence made by the slips and gully, went on to make 117.

Laxman, driving square through the covers with a languid bat or picking up the ball with the apparent effortlessness of a boy scrumping an apple in an orchard and tossing it over the wall made by midwicket for his friends to enjoy, will have been disappointed to edge a loosener from Bresnen to Prior for 54.

Interviewed after the end of the day’s play, when England remained 43 runs behind India’s first innings total of 288, with 9 of their available resource of wickets remaining, Dravid explained, “What we do, if we are successful, is to stir interest in the matter at hand, awaken enthusiasm for it, arouse a curiosity, kindle a feeling, fire up the imagination.”

So, it had been Sumner Miller.

It is therefore with awakened enthusiasm, curiosity and imagination that the resumption of play is awaited.  Resource Management be damned.

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VVS Relaxman

“Not in his fascinating collection of strokes, nor in his frank and open execution merely, lay the charm; it was a man playing away a power which was himself rather than in him …”

That was how, a hundred years ago, A.E. Knight of Leicestershire and England described Victor Trumper, but who would disagree with it as a description of Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman, with or without the back injury that forced him even further down the order, restricted his range of movement and caused him to use a runner in the dramatic  run chase in the final innings of the first Test against Australia in Mohali that took place earlier this week.

It is a bright star indeed that can find notice in a constellation where Ganguly, Dravid and Tendulka shine, but Knight’s definition of Trumper’s difference explains why Laxman nevertheless illuminates the sky. 

Eyes looking through the back of the bat to the contact point like a Federa

“Dada”, “The Wall” and “God” all in their way and to the highest degree play ‘away a power that is in them’.  The one with no ‘nick-name’ plays ‘away a power which is himself’ – an intriguing and discerning difference.

Here are some observations:  at the crease Laxman is perfectly still.  If we must find a trigger then it will be in something as imperceptible and miniscule as a blink, a discrete tightening and relaxing of the grip or a slight cock of the wrist. 

He sees the ball early and well, judging length to perfection and therefore moving without hurry into a precisely positioned and wonderfully firm base in which skeleton and musculature form a bastion of a two legged tripod worthy of any Zen master (as illustrated by the photograph at the top of the page).

He times the ball extremely well, demonstrating that the fine motor movements that direct the detailed execution of shots are as skilful as the large ones which have built the strong foundation. 

He watches the ball at the point of contact through the back of the bat, a surprisingly important technique adopted by the best tennis players and explained by Third Man in a posting on see-thru bats here.

A top of the handle batsman, a rare sight in modern 90 mph cricket.

He plays more shots than most modern batsmen with a dominant top hand and with both hands at the top of the handle in a way which increases the length of the levers, but is used now by very few batsmen who reply much more on the bottom hand.  Yet from that grip he still has the strength to whip the ball with the that bottom hand when necessary to find wider angles of the leg side.

He is able to make the telling fifty as well as the huge score. His 281 against Australia at Kolkata is justifiably celebrated but less well remembered were the two fifties scored in the final Test of that series at Chennai and the 51 he made on debut when he came in against South Africa in Ahmedabad at  61 for 4, watched Dravid depart soon after.  There are countless more match-saving or match-winning sub-hundreds played on tormenting surfaces that had dismantled the top order.

Which is not to say that he entirely forsakes the bottom hand, but he knows its place in an innings.

He can bat with the tail in a way that perhaps only Sobers has equalled.  It is a special person who has the self belief, phlegm and dedication to his team to accept and relish the No 6 position. 

In the Ahmedabad match mentioned above he inspired and empowered the tail in taking the score up to 190 when he was eighth man out on a wicket where the Spring Box were subsequently bowled out for 105 in the final innings.

All this was surely but a preparation for the innings on 5th October.  He came in at 76 for 5 when India required 216 to win.  Had a partnership with Tendulka of 43, which appeared to be taking India to victory. Watched as 4 batsmen went meekly at the other end and when India looked beaten still a daunting 92 runs short of their target with only Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha to keep him company.  Went quietly, resiliently, even angrily at times when the running looked fraught with confusion, but always capably about his task in a trance-like state of focus. Watched  as, with just 6 to win, Ojha, bewildered by a huge Australian appeal, appeared to wander down the wicket giving Steven Smith just yards away the chance to run him out.

Time appeared to stand still, then, the ball missed the stumps and gifted India four overthrows.  Two balls later it was all over as Ohja played it down to third man for the two that sealed victory in one of the closest and most dramatic Tests of all time.

How thoroughly Relaxman, then, that VVS did not at the end score the winning runs nor was he named Man of the Match which went to Zaheer Khan for his 8 wicket haul in the match.

If Test cricket has moved a step closer to regain the support of Indian spectators over shorter forms of the game, it will be because of this relaxed man playing away a power which was himself.

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