The best Test innings by an Indian batsman is without Laxman’s 281 at the Eden Gardens in 2001. Some sporting memories will never die, especially when someone stands up against a number 1 side in the world. It was early 2001. Australians led by Steve Waugh were having a dream run. They were already in the books of history by winning 16 Test matches in a row. Posting 445 in the first innings and running through one of the best batting line-ups at home for 171 in just 58 overs, they looked all set to win their 17th.
With a lead of 274 runs and bowlers still fresh, Steve chose to enforce the follow-on. India, following on, were not looking comfortable again. It was the 17th over, and India lost their first wicket for 52. VVS Laxman was then promoted to No. 3 and what happened next was history.
Laxman seemed to start his innings from where he had left off in his first innings. He was timing his strokes to perfection and finding the gaps with precision. Despite losing partners at regular intervals and being relatively new to the international arena, Laxman kept his cool. With Sachin Tendulkar out for 10 and Sourav Ganguly – the Prince of Calcutta – providing some support with 48 in a partnership of 117 runs, all India needed was one good partnership to have something to bowl at in the last 2 days. A draw would have been more than enough from an Indian perspective.
But Laxman had other plans. He took on one of the best bowling attacks that had the likes of Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne. He completed his second ton in Test cricket before stumps, and it was only the six time a batsman had scored a century in a session. It seemed like Laxman can walk on water if he had wanted to. At the end of Day 3, India were at 252 for 4, still trailing by 20 runs, with Laxman and Dravid unbeaten on 109 and 7 respectively.
Day 4 of the Test saw history being made. A lot of records were to be broken; Laxman and Dravid made sure they do it one by one. The game was changing dramatically with an incredible partnership from these batsmen. Laxman exhibited his wide range of shots. He was very quick on his feet to pull the short balls and used his wrists as always to put away those balls on his pads.
Australia tried all possible options with the ball by using nine bowlers. Laxman took a single off Matthew Hayden to cross the 236-run mark, going past Sunil Gavaskar’s record for the highest individual score by an Indian. Dravid, meanwhile, was rock solid and celebrated his 100 in an uncharacteristic fashion in response to those who had been criticising him for his poor form.
This pair batted through the entire day, without losing a single wicket and not giving a single chance to their opponents to take a wicket. It was such a hard working day for the bowlers with both the batsmen showing sheer class and applying themselves in. With Laxman on 275* and Dravid on 155*, India ended Day 4 at 589/4 having taken the lead past 300.
On Day 5, Laxman was dismissed on 281 after facing 452 balls. He sent 44 shots to the fence, the 5th most by any player in a Test innings. The Eden Garden crowd gave him a standing ovation, which he thoroughly deserved. Dravid was dismissed for 180, and India declared the 2nd innings at 657/7.
With a target of 384 to be chased down at a run rate of 5 per over, a win for Australia was almost out of the equation. Harbhajan Singh and Tendulkar delivered special performances with the ball as India completed a sensational win over Australia, ending their winning streak.
It was only the third time in the history of Test Cricket since 1877 a team had won a match after following on. This innings from Laxman was rated as the best Test innings ever by ESPN Cricinfo. It was indeed a very very special innings by a very very special player.