This was a match I was waiting for personally. Just the evening prior to the game, I got a mail from Mr.Blessington Thomas, Scorer from the Hyderabad Cricket Association giving the line ups for the game. I was wondering who was named as the skipper of Hyderabad with Venkatapathy Raju just retiring from the game. And the mail loaded and surprise surprise, top of all the names in the Hyderabad line up was V.V.S. Laxman and he was also the captain. Isn’t he amazing? The same Laxman was on the field at Chittagong for India on the 20th and on the 22nd he is on the field for Hyderabad. Does he have a point to prove to his critics, the selectors or is this just his commitment towards Hyderabad? We have no clues whatsoever!
I was up and ready to go to the Gymkhana and was really surprised to see a big crowd who were just waiting and hoping outside the locked gates, just to have a glimpse of their hero V.V.S.Laxman. I just overheard the Hyderabad’s coach Rajesh Yadav quoting in his usual style “Laxman aaya…bas hey (with his body language clearly suggesting that he was a very very relieved person). I was just speculating whether Intikhab Alam, Former Pakistani all rounder was thinking in lines of “Yuve aur Dinesh Mongia gaye”. There was a typical Hyderabadi roar when V.V.S and Pankaj Dharmani walked upto the pitch for the toss. (Oh yeah he did play an ODI in the Titan Cup and did tour South Africa in 1997. I must say here is one really unlucky bloke who couldn’t have a long career at the International level. For a wicket keeper to have a highest score of 305*, 19-100s and 32-50s and an impressive 18-50s in the List A matches is just an icing on the cake for any team. And I am pretty sure that the Indian selectors then did a lot bad to the Indian public by not giving a fair trial to this man!).
Back to the toss, Dharmani won the toss and choose to bowl and had plans of his pace battery to rip through the hometeam’s batting on a green top at the Gymkhana. And I forgot to talk about one Gagandeep Singh (who was part of the test squad) who came along with V.V.S all the way from Chittagong. Here is a strong lad with strong forearms; I hope he does bowl quick. But it wasn’t the Sahara T-Shirt clad Gagandeep Singh who was making the Hyderabad batsmen jump, but it was the little known Vikram Singh (who was being referred by the Hyderabad team as “lambu”). Tell you what this guy is quick and was looking a hard customer to handle on this kind of wicket. Vikram Singh quickly sent the two openers Anirudh Singh and Daniel Manohar in quick time. And the contest was just about to begin, V.V.S.Laxman Vs the Punjab Pace Battery. I am sure the Punjab’s pace attack on this wicket was far better than the bowling attack of Bangladesh. Skipper V.V.S.Laxman was upto the task as he should be with the amount of experience he has. Coming into bat with a stickerless bat, V.V.S hit most of the balls from the middle of the bat and one could see his “straight elbow” always coming into his drives. He was a perfect model to be watched for batting. Coming back to Gagandeep, he didn’t look quick by any means, he was more of a bowler who uses his wrist to good effect to nip the ball off the wicket. With Laxman settling in, all the bowlers took a peppering from him, I do remember one pull shot he played off left arm medium pacer Amit Uniyal. That was just dismissed from his presence in a fraction of a second to the mid wicket boundary. Brett Lee at his pace couldn’t bounce out V.V.S on the fast wickets in Australia, what was Amit Uniyal thinking??
Boundaries kept rolling and Hyderabad were back on the track with Vinay Kumar giving the ideal support to the Star in the middle. Vinay was though sent back by Vikram Singh and it was back to repair work for Hyderabad, this time it was Ambatti Rayudu with Laxman. The very 1st ball Rayudu faced was a quick bouncer from Vikram and Rayudu had no clue at all (Raayudu ko tare dikhe with that) as he fended it feebly and luckily the ball fell short of the wicket keeper. Had Navjot Singh Sidhu been here he would have simply told his NDTV friend Sonia Verma “it opened him up like a can of beans”. There was a short lesson from V.V.S to Rayudu and things settled down. Rayudu was at his best whenever the ball was pitched up and he played a couple of majestic on drives. (Venkatapathy Raju, who was sitting next to me was all the time talking that Rayudu got to play freely and once he plays his ondrives, the bowling attack would be softened). Shot raa Rayudu shot… were the shouts from the “Muscles” man. If there was a Sachin and Azhar for India once, today was a pair of Rayudu and Laxman for Hyderabad.
Ok time for me to take a break and I was going out of the ground when Reetinder Singh Sodhi (he’s not wearing a Turban???) disturbed the furniture of Rayudu. There you go words from our expert, the watchman at the gate, Afzal was quick to add, “he should have played forward, this guy always does this…” tell you what this was not told in the most polite manner. Next to go was V.V.S himself who was not upto the low bounce as Sodhi’s ball shooted onto his stumps. Laxman gone for 79 and so were some of the crowd. Hyderabad made 233 (again an innings which didn’t even last a full day’s play) and the wrecker-in-chief was Vikram Singh with 7/75 in his 17 overs. Hyderabad then reduced the visitors at 25/3 and next morning, it was all over quickly as they got all out for just 105. The damage was done by the all pace attack of Hyderabad led by N.P.Singh, left armer Vishnuvardhan, debutant right armer Kaushik Reddy and medium pacer Daniel Manohar.
Hyderabad found themselves in trouble by the end of the 2nd Day’s play tottering at 147/6, but two factors were still in their advantage. One was that of the lead being 273 and two that of V.V.S.Laxman being not out on 59. The crowds gathered around the Hyderabad’s dressing room, they were there for Laxman, but Laxman was somewhere behind. To the left was a part of the crowd content with the autograph of Reetinder Singh Sodhi. The crowd suddenly shouted “Rayudu Rayudu…” as they had Rayudu infront of them talking with other players. Rayudu didn’t respond in the beginning but suddenly there was a voice “aah vastuna…” (yes…I am coming ” and the crowd erupted in laughter). That was Rayudu showing his hand to the crowd and that was for sure the funniest moment of this game. Then came an official who suggested to Rayudu “Rayudu nuvu itla encourage cheyadu” (don’t encourage the crowd, it’s getting difficult to handle them). I thought for myself “it’s all because of the fans, players are there”.
Most of the people in the ground knew that the match would get over on the 3rd day itself and why not! Most of them wanted to be off the field on a Christmas holiday. V.V.S warmed himself pretty decently as he had a knocking session in the nets. Play was about to begin but for a couple of minutes all the players gathered and mourned for the demise of P.V.Narasimha Rao. Laxman was on strike and it was Vikram Singh bowling to him. And…V.V.S.Laxman is bowled with just a run in addition to his overnight score of 59. Now it was only matter of few balls and few runs as the remaining Hyderabadi batsmen fell apart and finally it was Hyderabad all out for 149. Vikram Singh went onto pick another 6 wickets in this match. A target of 278, this match reminded me so much about the Hyderabad Vs Baroda game. That game was won by Baroda thanks to heroics from Rishikesh Parab and Rajesh Pawar. The Hyderabad medium pacers stuck to their task as Punjab was struggling to come in terms of the wicket. The scoreboard read 96 and half of the Punjab side was already back in the pavilion. A good partnership got going between Gaurav Gupta and Muneesh Sharma. Laxman brought back Hyderabad’s best bowler N.P.Singh and he answered to his skipper’s call by giving a nice send back to Muneesh who got plumb in front as N.P.’s inswinger kept low. Time for me to go out and eat Bhel Puri and when I was coming back to the ground, there was a Sumo coming. And guess who was in the Sumo? None other than the Punjab’s coach Intikab Alam and his team. For once there was no smile on his chubby face. It was bye…bye…goodbye to the Punjab team who were the unlikely losers thanks to V.V.S.Laxman who stood tall for Hyderabad with his crucial knocks.