The best of VVS Laxman
Mumbai, Aug 18: VVS Laxman has been India’s man for the crisis right through his 16-year long Test career. A humble man, with no temptation for adulation, the only time VVS has allowed the spotlight to be on himself is when he’s wielded his willow to bat his team out of trouble. The gentlest of men, he also happens to be one of the toughest competitors on the field and saves his best against the best. No wonder then, that most of Laxman’s memorable Test innings are rearguard match-winning efforts and have come against the best teams of his era.
167 v Australia – 3rd Test, Sydney, January 2 to 4, 2000
It was only apt that Australia’s tormentor-in-chief opened his account of Test centuries against them, in their own backyard. India’s hope of restoring some pride after the defeats in Adelaide and Melbourne, crashed as they were humiliated by an innings and 141 runs in Sydney. Even as his team sunk to a series whitewash, VVS Laxman emerged from the tour with his reputation enhanced. Laxman had a tally of 47 runs from the first two Tests. He scored seven in the first innings in Sydney as India got skittled out for 150. Facing a 442-run deficit, Laxman walked out to open India’s second innings, in the afternoon session of Day-3. What followed in the next four and a half hours marked the beginning of VVS’s love affair with the Aussies. Laxman took on the might of the Australian attack, comprising Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Damien Fleming and Shane Warne with a rare combination of aggression and artistry. Where his teammates struggled to put bat on ball, VVS cruised away to 27 boundaries with glorious strokeplay. The quick men were cut and driven; the spinner bore the brunt of those sinuous wrists. Lee, who looked lethal in the first innings, was carted to the tune of 52 runs in five overs. Laxman, however, lacked support at the other end – Ganguly was the second highest scorer with 25 – as India went down for 261, handing a 3-0 series clean sweep to Australia.
281 v Australia – 2nd Test, Kolkata, 11-15 March, 2001
This innings by the stylish Hyderabadi will be etched forever in golden words in the annals of Indian Cricket for its sheer quality and the ability to inspire. Down in the series 0-1, India were on the brink of another embarrassment, at the Eden Gardens. After following on, they still needed 42 runs to avoid an innings defeat with six wickets in hand. The writing was on the wall, except, that two men decided to erase it and write a history of their own. VVS Laxman was the chief script-writer with a perfect accomplice, in Rahul Dravid (180). It was a sweltering March day in Kolkata and the Australians, with their bowling and banter, ensured the Indian batsmen felt the heat. But there stood Laxman, like a monk, seemingly undeterred by all that went around him, including the wickets of Tendulkar and Ganguly. Such was Laxman’s dominance on the proceedings, it put even the mighty Aussies at their wit’s end. Steve Waugh, who didn’t have to look beyond his four prime bowlers thus far, bowled nine men when VVS was in charge. Laxman’s epic knock lasted 631 minutes and as he went about carving the gaps and clearing the rope 44 times, never once did he present any bowler a chance. His 376-run partnership with Dravid, en route to a majestic 281 laid the foundation for India’s greatest ever Test victory. It was only the second instance in the history of Test cricket that a team had come back to win after following on. Australia’s winning streak of 16 Tests was broken and so was Steve Waugh’s dream to conquer the Final Frontier.
69 v Australia – 4th Test, Mumbai, 3 to 5 November, 2004
Australia had clinched the series 2-0 and a turner greeted the two teams for the fourth Test in Mumbai. After opting to bat first, India were folded out for 104. Australia fared slightly better with 203. By day-two, the wicket resembled a minefield and batting promised to be an arduous task. With two down in the fourth over, India summoned VVS Laxman at three. Soon he lost Sehwag and was joined by Sachin Tendulkar (55). The first 11 overs of the innings had produced 15 runs. Laxman and Tendulkar belted 30 in the next three. The partnership ended at 91 as Tendulkar departed after an attractive and attacking fifty. Laxman held fort for a while with Dravid. In an over, he pulled and cover-drove Nathan Hauritz for successive boundaries. He was brilliantly caught by the bowler off the next ball. The knock lasted 127 balls and was laced with 12 gorgeous boundaries. Harbhajan Singh and Murali Kartik did the rest, with the ball and Australia’s 107-run chase ended 13 runs short.
73* v Australia – 1st Test, Mohali, October 1 to 5, 2010
Most of Laxman’s celebrated knocks have come batting one-down, when he has laid the platform for a fightback. But in Mohali, he was up against different demons. When VVS came out to bat in the second innings with an injured back, India had lost five wickets for 76, chasing 216 for a win. He had only one specialist batsman for company in MS Dhoni. The stage was perfectly set for a VVS special and it duly arrived. With India still 92 runs adrift of the target, Laxman was batting with No.10 Ishant Sharma. He not only overcame his own mind and body but also guided the resilient Ishant to a batting performance he’ll be forever proud of. Together they added 81 for the ninth wicket. While the tailender offered a straight bat to almost everything that came his way, Laxman’s magical wrists were at work at the other end, unfurling the pulls, drives and cuts with ease, belying the match situation. He faced just 79 balls for his 73 and scored eight boundaries. Such intense was the desire to win that even a perennially calm Laxman lost his temper and hurled a couple of expletives towards last man Pragyan Ojha during a mix-up between the wickets. Five balls later India had won by one wicket. Australia’s biggest nemesis had stunned them once again and helped India retain the Border Gavaskar Trophy.
96 v South Africa, 2nd Test Durban, December 26 to 31, 2010
A resurrection was called for in the Boxing Day Test after India – the then number one Test team in the world – had been drubbed by an innings at Centurion. Batsmen from both teams struggled to hold their own as the fast bowlers made merry with the bounce and seam to their avail. As he is known to, VVS Laxman stood up when everyone around him fell apart. His 96 in the second innings, against Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Jacques Kallis, was a blend of caution and confidence. Most of the barrage of short-pitched deliveries was left alone but when the pull shot was deployed, it was executed to perfection. Laxman appeared to be batting on a different track as no other batsman from either team managed to cross the 50-run mark in the Test. VVS enabled India to set an herculean 303-run target, which the hosts fell short by 87 runs. After leading India to a series-levelling win, VVS rated the knock as one of his best and admitted it was one of the toughest wickets he had played on.