GAUTAM GAMBHIR and V.V.S. Laxman were outstanding at Kotla. None of their distinguished teammates could have surpassed their combination of class and control.
Throughout their commanding innings, these attractive and enterprising batsmen displayed sound judgment and a wide array of appealing strokes.
If Gambhir’s contribution is regarded as superior it is only because of its formative nature. Laxman’s knock was almost faultless and had about it a charm missing from the work of his fiery ally.
Gambhir is an exceptional batsman. Fertile off both feet and on both sides of the wicket, relaxed against spin and pace, constantly looking for runs yet prepared to bide his time when required, able to send the ball rushing to the boundary without applying undue force, he is an impressive operator.
He plays shots that had almost been forgotten in this age of heavy bats, including late cuts against fast bowlers, glances executed with a flick of the wrist and guides past slip.
He drives handsomely through extra-cover, putting the full blade of the bat through the ball, and picks off his pads with the dexterity of a bird plucking an insect from a bull’s back.
Gambhir is also fearless, prepared to hook off his eyebrow and to look any opponent in the eye. He exudes confidence as well, and reached his hundred by stepping down the pitch to lift a vaunted pacemen over the ropes. A thousand pities he missed the series in Australia.
Certainly Virender Sehwag has found his companion. The pair run unselfishly and smartly together and in the years ahead can be expected to provide India with numerous significant starts.
Gambhir’s weakpoint is his temper. A boy from his background, raised in a comfortable family and a student at a fine school, ought to rise above anger.
Whatever the provocation, it is not acceptable to dig an opponent in the ribs. Nor, with so many cameras to record the event, is it intelligent. And he was not a first offender, a group inclined to be leniently regarded.
Indeed, his midpitch collision with Shahid Afridi, hardly a saint himself, was worse than his nudge at Shane Watson.
On that occasion the Delhi boy was fined 65 per cent of his match fee. Moreover the offence occurred a matter of months ago.
He could not expect kid-glove treatment this time around. In the antipodean phrase, the deft opener needs to "pull his head in". He is too talented a player to indulge in nonsense of that sort.
Laxman was immense. Ever since his thrilling hundred in a lost cause in Sydney years ago, Australians have admired him. Indeed that may explain his record against them.
Self-doubt is his weakness – it can make him seem awkward and inept. When Laxman frets he becomes a Gulliver tied down by a thousand tiny concerns. But then his career has not been all idli and sambar. By some reckonings he’s been fighting for his place in 60 of his 99 Test matches!
His entire career has been like that. He was even dumped as the icon player at his IPL franchise so Adam Gilchrist could be signed, a move that proved to be a mistake. Laxman has not been given the appreciation he deserves.
Walking out to face the mighty but now fading Australians he must sense their regard and it must inspire him. Certainly he bats magnificently against them, and in a manner and style cherished Down Uunder.
The Hyderabadi’s batting at Kotla was a joy to behold. Like his teammates, he hardly seems to miss any ball directed at his pads, and like them seems able to impart power without apparent effort.
He scored most of his runs with ornate strokes past mid-wicket and drives through the covers executed with a long stride, perfect timing and precise placement. Hardly once in his innings did Laxman find a fielder.
Apart from his bold and brave hooking, he did not lift the ball either, or not until he reached 197 whereupon, for the first time in a fine career, he tried to imitate Sehwag.
Amongst modern batsmen, Laxman most pleases the eye. He is the unsung colossus of Indian cricket. As Sunil Gavaskar recently pointed out, it was his epic 281 at Eden Gardens that began this Indian renaissance.
However, he is a slow coach in the field and between wickets, a combination that has cost him his place in the one-day side.
Although no less competent, the Australian batsmen are not as attractive to watch. Most of them strike the ball rather than stroke it, relying on power and not touch.
Michael Clarke is the exception. Fresh, perky, quick on his pegs, and blessed with a wide range of shots and an eagerness to play them, he is as beautiful a batsman as any of the subcontinentals.