MOHALI, INDIA // VVS Laxman revived his role as Australia’s chief tormentor with a magnificent unbeaten 73 to script India’s unlikely one-wicket victory on the final afternoon of the first Test.
Resuming on 55 for four and chasing a victory target of 216, India appeared doomed in the last hour before lunch but an 81-run ninth wicket stand between Laxman and Ishant Sharma set up the opening win of a two Test series.
India had lost a flurry of wickets to slip to 124 for eight but Ishant contributed 31 valuable runs in his partnership with Laxman, who was batting with a runner due to a bad back, as the hosts scrambled over the finish line in a frantic climax.
“One of the best, one of the most exciting Test matches I have played and I have played some 150 now,” Ricky Ponting, the Australia captain, said. “The Ishant-Laxman partnership was outstanding, it made the difference.”
When play began, India needed 161 runs to win while Australia required six wickets in an absorbing Test but the ever-reliable Laxman kept his head, managing the tail to deny Ponting a first win in India as captain.
Today’s innings adds to Laxman’s reputation as a thorn in Australia’s side with all but one of his five 150-plus scores coming against them, including a 281 in Kolkata nine years ago that led to a stunning India win after they had been asked to follow on.
“He is a remarkable batsman. If he is at the crease, whatever field you set, he can rotate strike, hit boundaries and keep the scoreboard ticking. He is really an amazing batsman. He was very special,” MS Dhoni, India’s captain, said.
Going into the final day, local hopes rested on Sachin Tendulkar but the prolific batsman uncharacteristically threw his wicket away with a poor shot when on 38.
Earlier, Nathan Hauritz had made Australia’s initial breakthrough by ending overnight batsman Zaheer Khan’s 34-ball vigil.
Doug Bollinger then took over, removing Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh, the latter wicket coming after Dhoni had ran himself out to compound the home side’s crisis.
Laxman and Ishant, however, did not panic and played deliveries on merit as the hosts eventually completed what is the fourth-highest successful chase on Indian soil.
Dhoni echoed Ponting’s sentiments in rating the match as one of the best he had played in.
“Heartbeat goes up, a typical thing. I think that’s what make Test cricket interesting,” Dhoni said. “When the match started, no one expected a result within four-and-half days.”
Zaheer, who was named man of the match for his eight-wicket haul, felt India had played marginally the better in clinching a contest.
“It was a great game of cricket. Australia fought really hard and we did just enough to be on the winning side,” said the fast bowler.
Bangalore hosts the second Test from Saturday but India will be without the injured Ishant and Gautam Gambhir.
India beat Australia by one wicket to lead the two-test series 1-0.
Australia first innings 428 (S.Watson 126, R.Ponting 71, T.Paine 92; Zaheer Khan 5-94) India first innings 405 (S.Tendulkar 98, S.Raina 86, R.Dravid 77; M.Johnson 5-64) Australia second innings: 192 (S.Watson 56)
India second innings: (overnight 55-4) G. Gambhir lbw b Hilfenhaus 0 V. Sehwag c Hussey b Hilfenhaus 17 R. Dravid c Paine b Bollinger 13 S. Tendulkar c Hussey b Bollinger 38 S. Raina c North b Hilfenhaus 0 Z. Khan c Clarke b Hauritz 10 V. Laxman not out 73 MS Dhoni run out 2 H. Singh c Ponting b Bollinger 2 I. Sharma lbw b Hilfenhaus 31 P. Ojha not out 5 Extras: (b-10, lb-8, w-6, nb-1) 25
Total (nine wickets; 58.4 overs) 216
Fall of wickets: 1-0 2-31 3-48 4-48 5-76 6-119 7-122 8-124 9-205.
Bowling: Hilfenhaus 19-3-57-4, Bollinger 8-0-32-3, Johnson 16.4-2-50-0, Hauritz 9-1-45-1, North 4-0-8-0, Watson 2-0-6-0.