INDIA'S accomplished batsmen continued their destruction of Australian bowling on a sunblessed second day in Sydney. Whereas the locals attacked with furious intent on the first day, they posed little threat upon the resumption, resembling a one-lap specialist forced to undertake a second circuit. On a sound pitch the Australians were unable to unsettle India's distinguished overnight pairing and the mayhem continued deep into the afternoon.
An enormous change has come over Indian batting in the past few years. Previously, strong players like Vijay Hazare, Sunil Gavaskar and the immortal Vishy stood out because they held their ground against fast bowling and scored runs around the world. Others were bewildered by green pitches and balls flying around their turbans.
Sourav Ganguly's team is altogether more worldly wise and arrived with a resolute outlook and several batsman of high calibre. Moreover, the Indians have run between wickets better than any team from the region, an indication of a changed state of mind.
Previously Virender Sehwag , the cavalier, and Rahul Dravid , the immovable object, had led the way. Now Sachin Tendulkar and V.V.S. Laxman made telling contributions as they wore down an attack lacking penetration.
Tendulkar's innings counts amongst the most fascinating of his career. The sight of a great player whose touch has deserted him putting his head down to build a score gave immense satisfaction. Hitherto the Australians have been able to frustrate him into trying to drive deliveries better left alone. Now Tendulkar restricted himself to shots played with the full blade and close to the body. Perhaps it was a New Year's resolution.
Tendulkar pushed the score along with straight drives and sundry placements and otherwise relied upon an immaculately constructed defence. Steve Waugh pushed his field back, instructed his men to slow the scoring and waited for a mistake that did not come. Tendulkar did not intend to lose his wicket. He meant to score a hundred and must have felt a mixture of profound relief and delight when finally the deed was done.
Only once three figures had been reached did Tendulkar start to expand his range. Even then he was not at his most fluent, but eventually the full range of shots appeared as with effortless ease the batsman placed the ball wide of mid-on. This was a mature innings, the work of a batsman with a strong mind and a deeply rooted game. Tendulkar's second career has been launched by his third double-century.
Laxman was magnificent and showed no sign of the brittleness often detected in the brilliant. Here he played some wonderful shots, but these were merely the icing on the proverbial cake. Laxman is also a fine craftsman. Like his partner, he did not hit a ball in the air, lose patience, play across the line or make an error of judgement. More even than Tendulkar, his timing and placement were so superb that he sent the ball away through gaps with fieldsmen in hot and unavailing pursuit.
Laxman has another strength. He is a popular and unselfish partner. Both Dravid and Tendulkar have been helped by his free scoring and considerate remarks. The Hyderabadi is a quiet, thoughtful, gifted man proud of his country and aware of the needs of his team. Unlike most sportsmen he does not define himself only in terms of his game. Accordingly there is nothing cramped in his batting, merely a determination to serve his side to the best of his ability.
Laxman and Tendulkar reduced the Australians to bowling a foot outside off-stump with a far-flung field. Waugh's team need to win the match to recapture the Border-Gavaskar trophy. Failure seems inevitable. Perhaps they will not need to change the rules to accommodate this Australian side.
This article was first published by Fairfax Media on January 4, 2004. Tendulkar was 220 not out at the time of publication.