VVS Laxman: An ode to India's Guardian Angel
In March 2001 at Kolkata, Australia plundered their way to 445 in the first innings, courtesy a gritty century by Steve Waugh. A few hours later, they shot out the Indians for a paltry 171, meaning that a record-breaking 17th consecutive victory and a conquering of the ‘final frontier’ was within touching distance.
After enforcing a follow-on, the Aussies got the initial breakthrough they craved when Shane Warne dismissed Sadagoppan Ramesh with the score reading 52. Thus, plenty expected India to traverse a similar path as the first innings and capitulate, thereby handing the visitors another commanding victory.
Yet, at that juncture, a certain VVS Laxman walked out to bat and over the next couple of days, he had scripted a chapter in cricketing folklore like no other batsman had done before, or might ever do.
The elegant right-hander cocked his wrists to cut and pull, nonchalantly used his willow like a wand to flick against the spin and even outrageously walked down the track to pummel Warne through the covers.
Unsurprisingly, the Australians were left clueless when encountered with such a batting wizard and, India somehow managed to snatch a win from the jaws of defeat.
However, rather astonishingly, that wasn’t the only victory the batsman from Hyderabad powered his side to. And, though his other match-winning efforts understandably dwarf in comparison to perhaps the greatest Test innings of all time, those displays weren’t too shabby either.
Throughout the nascent stages of the 21st century, India were blessed to boast a batting line-up comprising Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS. The ‘Fab Four’ became the envy of the world as the aforementioned cricketers distinguished themselves scoring truckloads of runs.
However, despite the number of runs each of them scored, Laxman arguably was THE Guardian Angel of Indian cricket during that period.
On countless occasions, the Men In Blue were left staring at a barrel waiting to blast out another loss. Yet, in the face of such adversity, VVS stood up, more often than not, thereby carving a special niche for himself in cricketing history.
The 4th innings of a Test match, often considered the toughest time to bat, was the playground Laxman enjoyed immersing himself in most. Over 38 innings, he scored over 1000 runs, averaging 40.56 in the process.
More importantly though, he knew how to make himself counted, especially when the chips were down; a fact magnified by his exemplary record against Australia, who at the time, were the most feared outfit in the world.
The propensity came to the fore against New Zealand at Napier, against Sri Lanka at Colombo, against South Africa at Durban and Kolkata and of course, at Mohali against Australia.
On each of those instances, India were pinned back, they stood contemplating what could’ve been and felt crestfallen at a game that had gone pear-shaped. Yet, VVS, courtesy his uncanny ability to come up trumps, ensured that several matches were turned on its head.
To put things into further perspective, he batted at Mohali with a sore back, had Suresh Raina as his runner and Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha for company. Yet, at the end of it all, he emerged from the rubble unscathed.
Throughout his career, Laxman embodied a clutch batsman and one capable of shining when it would’ve been easier to wilt under pressure. However, more extraordinarily, he did so with an assertiveness that very few could match. Though grafting wasn’t always his forte, he did his fair share of sparring too, especially when the situation entailed such an approach.
And, when he got into his groove, he was just magnificent. The characteristic whippy shots through the leg-side were complemented adroitly with sumptuous cover drives and square cuts as several bowlers searched for answers to seemingly undecipherable questions.
Moreover, he was an extremely vital cog as India scaled the No.1 Test peak under the stewardship of MS Dhoni. At that juncture, the Indians possessed numerous players at the top of their game but it could have unravelled spectacularly had VVS not dug India out of various holes.
Hence, a case could be made for Laxman to be included in the discussion of the greatest Indian Test batsman ever, perhaps even higher than some of the more illustrious names. And, maybe the Australians might also testify.
After all, what set VVS apart was the timing of his stupendous showings, rather than the sheer weight of runs he conjured. And, one reckons not many were able to pull such rabbits out of their hat, not when magic seemed the only escape route.