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Fickleness of cricket turns giants into pygmies

None of the heroes of recent meetings between India and Australia has been batting fluently. None has looked comfortable or confident at the crease. At times Matthew Hayden, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman must cast an envious eye over the cheerful style seen in various newcomers. Cricket can be a simple game. It can also be a trial and a tribulation.

Australia looks set to win the series partly because it can manage without Hayden. Adam Gilchrist has many fine cricketers at his disposal. India has relied an awful lot upon a handful of superb players. Defeat was inevitable once those men lost their way. Australia is powerful in every department and position. India's weak links have been exposed.

Undoubtedly Hayden has not been his old self. Remembering his brutal batting in 2001, Indian spectators must be shaking their heads at the sight of him scratching around like a hen in a backyard. But, then, it is the fickleness of cricket that makes a man appear impregnable one day and vulnerable the next.

Australian supporters must be likewise amazed to discover that Rahul Dravid is not impregnable and that Very Very Special Laxman can sometimes be Very Very Suspect. Dravid had begun to resemble a fortress and the Australians thought that gelignite alone could bring him down — and the match referee might object to that! Laxman spent the last two series smiting Shane Warne and now cannot survive even his long hops. Such are the joys of cricket! Of course they do not seem like joys to batsmen wondering where their games have gone and when it will return.

Hayden has been the pick of this struggling trio. His figures are not that bad. Overall he has scored 185 runs in 6 innings at an average of above 30. Better players than the Queenslander have endured worse droughts. Greg Chappell went though a period in which every ball seemed about the size of a pea. Nor is it fair to measure him by his achievements three years ago. No man alive can sustain the sort of bombardment he mounted in that campaign. Hayden was awesome as he smote 549 runs in three matches at an average of 109. Sourav Ganguly and chums must have felt they were trying to stop an advancing tank with water pistols.

Patently Hayden could not maintain these standards. After all he had not taken a magic potion that converted him into a comic strip hero. But he can be judged by subsequent campaigns. Much to his frustration Hayden has not been able to discover even this form. Batting has become a struggle and it is to his credit that he has played his part in several steady opening partnerships. His experience confirms that his designation as "the muscular Queenslander" is merely a convenient caricature that conveys an impression whilst concealing the truth — that he is mere flesh and blood. In 2001 Hayden took India by surprise. It was not going to happen again.

Dravid has batted with the same commitment seen in previous series but the runs are not flowing. Australia has made it hard for him by setting astute fields and bowling a niggardly and unrelenting line. They have forced a thinking man to doubt his game. Dravid is not a fellow to take the soft option and accordingly has tried to fight his way through the rough trot. Unfortunately his diligence has made matters worse by further tightening his game.

Intelligent cricketers keep digging till they find a way out. Sometimes the hole just gets deeper but there is no other way. Dravid's batting is a creation of his mind and sooner or later the solution will be found in the same place. An Australian coach might suggest he relaxes a little more with a couple of beers, anything to loosen muscles and mind. Dravid will score a lot more runs for his country and may just need that little something to get him going.

Laxman is a different case. His fortunes may continue to wax and wane. On song he is an exceptional batsman. Off colour he can lumber like a giraffe on a dance floor. Whereas Dravid and Hayden have built their batting on strong foundations, Laxman relies on eye and touch. He is, too tall a batsman and like most of his kind has trouble deciding whether to go back or forward. At his best he sets about the bowling with vim and vigour and it may be that he needs to take this approach into every innings. Some men are not meant to be masters.

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