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November 26, 1999


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Laxman gets a ton in tour opener

The Rediff team

If India, going into the Australian tour, was justifiably worried about the lack of depth in a batting lineup dominated by the big three -- Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly -- then the touring side had reason to smile as Hyderabad middle order batsman V V S Laxman, picked as reserve opener for the tour, came in with India 0/1 and went on to score a fine 113, out of India's score of 273 for 9 at stumps on day one of the four-day game against Queensland at the Gabba.

Laxman in action against Queensland Laxman mixed patient defence with good strokeplay, his 113 spanning 209 deliveries and embellished by 20 boundaries. With Sadagopan Ramesh, who played a patient, watchful innings, Laxman added 100 for the second wicket after Devang Gandhi edged Andrew Bichel behind for a duck to get the innings off to a bad start.

A rather extravagant foray down the wicket by Ramesh against Ferguson led to his stumping, and Rahul Dravid got off to a bad start when he was trapped in front by the same bowler before the Indian number three had opened his account.

Those two wickets, in the 40th over, brought Sachin Tendulkar to the middle. The Indian skipper took a while to settle down and get a feel for the pitch, then opened out in a brisk 136-run partnership off just 30 overs with Laxman, taking India to 236 before Laxman's fluent knock came to a rather tame end. A feature of Laxman's batting was the fluency with which he pulled the Queensland pacemen -- Andrew Bichel, Adam Dale and Scott Muller, all internationals -- whenever they tested him on the bouncy Gabba wicket by pitching short.

Sachin during his knock of 83 against Queensland Tendulkar, who after a quiet start had been looking to put the attack to the sword, perished soon after, just when he was looking good to record the tourists' second century, and that sparked a mini-collapse -- MSK Prasad followed his captain back to the hut just two balls later, giving Scott Muller two wickets for the over, and Vijay Bharadwaj, who was unimpressive in a 40-ball stay in course of which he scored just 5 runs, Anil Kumble and Venkatesh Prasad fell in quick succession thereafter.

T Kumaran, however, showed unsuspected skill with the bat, starting out with two fours in an Andrew Symonds over, and with Debashish Mohanty holding his end up, India ended day one with a decent score of 273 for 9 off 91 overs.

The Indian team as selected for this game gives an indication of the areas the tourists are unsure about. Thus, all three openers -- Ramesh, Gandhi and Laxman -- were played, in order that the captain and coach could get a fair idea of their form and ability in alien conditions. Similarly, the seasoned Javagal Srinath was rested and both Kumaran and Mohanty were played in the game -- indications here would be that Venkatesh Prasad will be the second seamer alongside Srinath, and the third seamer's spot will be contested between Mohanty and Kumaran, with Ajit Agarkar definitely the last among equals in the team's calculations.

Queensland is a good tour opener for the Indians -- the team, packed with six internationals, had beaten Pakistan convincingly in the tour-opening game earlier last month. Interestingly, even though Michael Kasprowicz was summoned to the WACA for duty in the third Test against Pakistan now on, Queensland has one of the most potent seam attacks among Australian sides, with Andy Bichel, Scott Muller and Adam Dale all having worn national colours.

The depth of their pace attack -- now bolstered by hard-hitting medium-pacer Andrew Symonds -- and the leadership provided, successively, by Allan Border and Ian Healy, has made Queensland front-runners in the ongoing Pura Milk Cup, which it has won twice in the last five essays.

The side should also test the Indian bowling -- and of particular interest will be to see how Venkatesh Prasad, Anil Kumble, Kumaran and Mohanty shape against a batting lineup led by Stuart Law, one of Wisden's five cricketers of the year not so long ago, and backed by Mathew Hayden and James Maher, both internationals.

The Indians will be looking at a morale-boosting win ahead of the first Test -- and being able to beat a side that handed a full-strength Pakistan a drubbing not so long ago will qualify as a definite high. But more importantly, they will want to use this game as a form guide, for when it comes to picking the team for the first Test against Australia.


Mail Faisal Shariff