‘Nine Gems’ from the bat of VVS Laxman

Nishant Dey Purkayastha

A large part of a discussion regarding the contributions of various batsmen in India’s emergence as the numero uno test side in the world is most likely to revolve around two men, Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. The remaining time would probably be divided between Virender Sehwag, Sourav Ganguly and Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman. But the last personality, VVS Laxman, has been as important to the Indian line-up as a Tendulkar or a Dravid. Laxman is India’s crisis man as far as test cricket is concerned. His presence in the middle has a calming affect on the atmosphere in the dressing room. In the past decade, Laxman has played crucial roles in some famous Indian victories, including a match-winning 281 in the most famous triumph in the history of Indian cricket.

Laxman made his test debut in November 1996 in a low scoring match against South Africa at Ahmedabad. He scored just 11 in the first innings as India were dismissed for just 223. South Africa replied with 244 runs. Laxman walked in at 82 for 4 and he stuck around doing a job for his team while others struggled at the other end. He fell after contributing 51 runs, the only half century by an Indian in the match. India were bowled out for 190 but they still went on to win the test by 65 runs. Laxman had arrived and he had already given a glimpse of the kind of role he would be playing in the future. However, he failed to deliver on a consistent basis at the start of his career. A promotion to the top of the order didn’t help either and he was axed from the side in April 1997. He was back about a year later but was dropped again after two tests. Shunted in and out of the side, he made his case stronger with a staggering performance in the 1999-2000 Ranji season in which he aggregated 1415 runs, the most ever in a single season. In January 2000, he played a gem against Australia in Sydney, scoring 167 in the second innings for India. But he still couldn’t cement a place in the side. The defining innings of Laxman’s career came in March 2001 against the Aussies at Eden Gardens when he scored what was then the highest individual score by an Indian in test cricket. Since then, there has been no looking back for VVS. Over the years, he has made himself an indispensable part of the Indian line-up and has become a match-winner in every sense of the world. Here, we look at Laxman’s ‘Navratna’ or ‘nine gems’, nine of Laxman’s finest performances that reminded people that he is indeed Very Very Special.

Laxman defends the ball during India's frist test victory in South Africa at Johannesburg

9. 73 vs South Africa at Johannesburg, 2006

India’s first test victory in South Africa was a perfect example of a team effort. A five-wicket haul from Sreesanth had enabled the visitors to bowl South Africa out for 84 in the first innings after they themselves had been dismissed for 249. The conditions were difficult and India’s batsmen needed to give the bowlers enough runs to play with. Laxman strode out with India in a tricky position at 41 for 3. Tendulkar departed soon after with the score at 61. Laxman didn’t allow the pressure to get to him. Shaun Pollock, Andre Nel and Makhaya Ntini made run scoring difficult. Using all his experience, VVS went about building a partnership with Ganguly. The latter fell after a 58-run stand but Laxman hung around with Mahendra Singh Dhoni and the tail. A 70 run stand with Zaheer Khan further frustrated the hosts. VVS finally fell for 73, but he had done enough to stretch the lead past 400. The hosts fell short by 123 runs and the Wanderers had been conquered. As quoted in the Wisden report, “Laxman displayed the temperament of a scholar, ignoring the inevitable snorters which still came his way.”

8. 200* and 59* vs Australia at Delhi, 2008

It was Anil Kumble’s last test and Laxman’s knock made this otherwise dull match a memorable one. He shared a 278 run stand with Gautam Gambhir, who also scored a double century. VVS was at his very best in this match. The magic of the wrists innings left the Aussies spellbound. Deliveries pitching outside the off-stump were often flicked through mid-wicket in trademark Laxman style. Brett Lee and Mitchell Johnson tried bouncing him too. But the pulls were as good as any of the other shots, the wrists ensuring that the ball stayed on the ground. VVS flicked and drove his way to a second test double century that helped India to put up a mammoth 613 in the first innings. A disciplined effort from the Aussie batsmen helped them to 577. In the second innings, Laxman continued from where had had left in the first and nothed up an unbeaten 59.

Laxman's first test century, a stroke-filled 167 at Sydney

7. 167 vs Australia at Sydney, 2000

Laxman’s first test century was a remarkable effort against an attack comprising the likes of Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee and Shane Warne with India staring at defeat. Having lost the first two matches of the series, India were playing for pride in the final test at Sydney. However, the Aussies were in no mood to let loose and after bowling India out for 150, they put up 552 runs on the board. Being an opener, Laxman’s first job was to negotiate the new ball. He did that to perfection but unfortunately, the story wasn’t the same at the other end where wickets kept on falling regularly. Laxman received on the visor of his helmet quite early in the innings but he kept going. Anything short was met with an authoritative cut or a pull. Graceful drives sent the ball to all parts of the ground. There was some support from Ganguly and Anil Kumble but unfortunately that wasn’t good enough to save India from an innings defeat. Laxman was the 8th man to fall. He departed for a majestic 167 off just 198 deliveries. India lost the series 3-0 but Laxman’s innings proved to be a silver lining in defeat.

6. 65 and 66 vs Australia at Chennai, 2001

It was the deciding test of the 3-match series. Australia had won the first test, but India made an incredible comeback in the second test to draw level. Harbhajan Singh’s seven wicket haul restricted Australia to 391 in the first innings. The hosts replied with 501 runs. Everyone in the top six contributed, with Laxman chipping in with a dominating 65 in quick time. Harbhajan produced another superb performance that left India to get 155 runs for victory in the fourth innings. The Aussies made life difficult for all the Indian batsmen but Laxman was unaffected. VVS was in a world of his won. With wickets crumbling at the other end, he decided to take the attack to Warne, McGrath and co and took India closer to the target. In the end it was a brilliant catch from Mark Waugh that sent Laxman back to the hutch. India still needed 20 to win after Laxman’s departure and Sameer Dighe did the needful to take India past the finishing line.

Laxman celebrates his 16th test century that helped India beat Sri Lanka at Colombo

5. 56 and 103* vs Sri Lanka at Colombo, 2010

India came into the last match of the series trailing the hosts by a game. A good battig performance from the Lankans in the first innings made things more complicated for India. The visitors scored 436 in reply to the hosts’ 425 with Laxman chipping in with a graceful 56. A wonderful effort from the spinners left India to chase down a target of 257 to level the series. Laxman walked in to bat on day fifth day at 62 for 4 with Sri Lanka sensing an opportunity. He hadn’t yet recovered fully from the back spasms he had developed the previous day, but India needed him. In the middle, Laxman seemed to have more time to play his shots than the other batsmen. Batting seemed ridiculously easy as Laxman and Tendulkar put together 109 runs to get the chase back on track before the latter departed. The back spasms returned to trouble Laxman and he had to get a runner. Suresh Raina, playing just his second test started nervously but VVS calmed him down as India approached the target. The pain restricted his movement but victory was in sight and Laxman was not going to bow down. The drives and flicks kept flowing as Laxman brought up his 16th century to seal a memorable series levelling victory.

4. 96 vs South Africa at Durban, 2010

The most recent entry in this list, Laxman’s effort at Durban saved India from a lot of criticism regarding its status as the number one test side. A mediocre batting performance from the visitors in the first innings, 205 all out, was followed by an excellent bowling effort that restricted the Proteas to just 131. India’s batsmen needed to put up a challenging target for the hosts, but the task became difficult as the visitors slumped to 56 for 4. The conditions were trying and Laxman decided to take matters in his own hand. He produced a gem of an innings to keep the South Africans at bay. His judgement of deliveries outside the off-stump was impeccable. The defence was rock solid. There were a couple of close calls but Laxman made full use of his good fortune. No scoring opportunity was wasted as Laxman took India’s lead past 300. He was unfortunate to fall 4 runs short of a well deserved century but his effort was good enough to secure victory for the team.

Laxman pulls during his match winning 73 at Mohali

3. 73* vs Australia at Mohali, 2010

Another beauty from Laxman against his favourite opponents, the Australians. Laxman was suffering from a sore back due to which he had to bat at number 10 in India’s first innings. Chasing 216 for victory, India were reeling at 76 for 5 when Laxman decided to walk out with a runner. However, there was a mini collapse at the other end and India slumped to 124 for 8. Ishant Sharma strode out and joined Laxman to defy the Aussies. Australia attacked Laxman with aggressive fields and he went on the counter attack. Skipper Ricky Ponting did all he possibly could but Laxman was simply too good. Injections, painkillers and exercises in the drinks breaks helped him battle the pain and concentrate on the job at hand. He received admirable support from Ishant who scored a defiant 31. Ishant fell 11 runs short of the victory target but Ojha held his nerve as India scraped through by the slightest of margins. Laxman remained unbeaten on 73 off just 79 deliveries, a magical innings given the match situation and the condition of Laxman’s back.

2. 148 vs Australia at Adelaide, 2003

One of India’s greatest triumphs overseas, a victory that shrugged off a popular belief that India were lions in just their own dens. A double century from Ricky Ponting helped Steve Waugh’s Australia to 556 in the first innings and put them in the driver’s seat. A wonderful spell from Andy Bichel reduced India to 85 for 4. That’s when Laxman walked in to join Dravid and the duo went on to build a historic 303-run partnership. Laxman’s strokeplay was sublime and his wonderful wrists were put to work more often than the Aussies would have liked. His handling of Stuart McGill was extraordinary. He used his feet beautifully to get inside the line and play the ball through cover or to flick it against the turn onto the on side. The Aussies were clueless about where to bowl to him and all they could do was hope tha he would make a mistake. Laxman finally fell for a quite magnificent 148. Dravid went on to get a double century and a six wicket haul from Ajit Agarkar took India to the doorstep of victory. A collective batting effort, led by Dravid gave India its first test victory in Australia since 1980-81. This match is mostly remembered for Dravid’s heroics but without Laxman’s support, things might not have been the same.

Laxman drives during his 281 at Eden Gardens

1. 281 vs Australia at Eden Gardens, 2001

Laxman’s best test innings to date, and considered by many by the best ever by an Indian and among the greatest ever in the illustrious history of test cricket. This particular innings was rated by Wisden as the fourth greatest innings of all time and it will remain etched in the mind of every single person that witnessed it. Steve Waugh’s Australia, the number one cricket team in the world at that moment, had thrashed India by 10 wickets in the first test at Mumbai and they were threatening to win the series in the second test at the Eden Gardens itself. After putting up 445 on the board in the first innings, the Aussies had bowled India out for 171. Steve Waugh decided to enforce the follow-on and then came the innings that changed the face of Indian cricket. Laxman came out at 97 for 2 and he departed for 281 with the score at 608. His stay in the middle included a massive 376-run stand with Dravid, who himself scored a defiant 180. Laxman, who was also India’s highest scorer in the first innings with 59, made 281, the highest individual score by an Indian at that time. His knock was chanceless and it included 44 hits to the fence. He used his feet beautifully against Warne and was equally prolific against McGrath and Jason Gillespie. Laxman played with assurance and authority, notching up the second century of his test career. He timed the ball perfectly throughout his innnings and looked equally solid in defence. Those wrists mesmerised spectators for over ten hours. By the time he left, Laxman had already carved a place for himself in the history of test cricket. India had not only avoided defeat, they also had an opportunity to press for victory. A six-wicket haul from Harbhajan was exactly what the doctor ordered as India recorded its most famous test victory. This match changed the complte mindset of the Indian dressing room. There was a lot more self belief in the players. The process of climbing up the ladder had been initiated and no one played a more crucial role in that than VVS Laxman.

At this moment, Laxman is India’s go to man in crisis situations and more often than not, he has delivered when the team has needed it most. Laxman has always reserved his best for Australia, the top side in world cricket for a large part of his career. He is one of only two Indian batsmen to score more than 2000 runs against the Aussies, Tendulkar being the other one. 2010 was one of Laxman’s most productive years i international cricket. He played some magical knocks that helped India achieve victories or save matches from some very difficult situations. People often talk about how difficult it would be to find suitable replacements for Dravid and Tendulkar once they retire. But probably an even more important question is who will replace Laxman when he decides to call it a day?

Final Reads : 55 7: Pts 5/10

Editorial Score : Pts 9/10

Total Pts : 14/20

Edited by Staff Editor


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