It isn’t every day in cricket that a team is able to build a legendary batting line-up. Ask any Indian fan about their dream team sheet and you are likely to hear the names Virender Sehwag, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman and Sourav Ganguly. If Sehwag was explosive, Dravid was the most technically sound batsman. If Tendulkar was the ‘Master’, Ganguly was the inspirational leader of men. So, if there is one word that embodies their talented teammate Laxman, it surely has to be the ‘magician’. When on song, he was a genius, who used the willow like an artist’s brush, stamping his authority over the opposition and exemplifying his class.
Laxman may not have been the most dependable batsmen, like Dravid, or scored as many runs and centuries as Tendulkar, but he was undoubtedly Very Very Special. He played some of the most important knocks in some of India’s most crucial Test victories both home and away. His 8,781 test runs and 17 hundreds may not put him into the same class as the all-time greats (he was often undone by his inconsistency), but on his day there was no player in Laxman’s generation who could match him on stroke play. His on-side wristwork was arguably the best world has seen.
What made Laxman special was his ability to produce absolute gems in the midst of inconsistency – just ask the Aussies; he always brought out his A-game against them. He would hurt the opposition teams when they feared him the least and make the best attacks look amateurish. It is no surprise that some of his best knocks weren’t huge scores but ones that changed the course of the game. Here we turn back the glorious pages of Indian cricket history and take a look at 10 very very special knocks by the magician.
10 – 167 vs Australia at Sydney, 2000
India’s tour of Australia in 2000 can be best described by the word ‘submission’. They lost the first two test matches by margins of 285 and 180 in what would prove to be Sachin Tendulkar’s last few months of captaincy. Arriving at Sydney for the 3rd and final Test Match nothing much was expected from the visiting side. They were bowled out for 150 in the first innings and started the second with a staggering 402 run deficit. The second innings followed a similar script with the side folding for 261, but not before Laxman scored his first international hundred. This innings of 167 was pure class, as Laxman took the Aussie bowling attack apart scoring 64% of his team’s runs, which stands third highest in the history of the game. This innings was a precursor to the many wonderful knocks that he would play against the Australians for the rest of his career.
9 – 176* vs West Indies at Eden Gardens, 2011
Laxman was at the tail end of his career and doubts were being raised about his form and fitness. He hadn’t scored a hundred in his previous 28 innings and was failing to convert starts into big scores. It was under these circumstances that he arrived at his favourite hunting ground, where he averaged close to one hundred and had scored four centuries in his previous nine appearances. While the opposition bowling attack may not have been especially threatening, Laxman had to prove his critics wrong. The stars had always come to Laxman’s favour at the ‘City of Joy’ and he gave the Kolkata crowd another innings to remember. Scoring at a brisk pace, he played a dominant knock with a strike rate of over 60 to remind his critics of one of the most famous clichés in the game – form is temporary, while class is permanent.
8 – 91 vs New Zealand at Ahmedabad, 2010
The Indian team was staring at a humiliating defeat at the hands of New Zealand after putting a mammoth 487 on the board in the first innings. With a small lead of 28 runs in the first innings, Laxman walked in when India were 2 for 3, which soon turned to 15 for 5. It was from this stage that he built the innings, playing a superb 91 run knock and putting up a partnership of 163 with Harbhajan Singh who scored his maiden hundred. While Harbhajan was rightly named man-of-the-match for his all-round performance, it was Laxman who rescued the side like he had done on several occasions earlier and ensured that the match ended in a draw.
7 – 103* vs Sri Lanka at Colombo, 2010
This was a high scoring encounter, where both the teams had put up 400+ totals in their respective first innings. India bowled out Sri Lanka cheaply for 267 and set a target of 258 to win the match. When Laxman walked out to bat, the hosts were in the driver’s seat having reduced the Indians to 62 for 4. As he had done so many times, Laxman displayed aggressive stroke play on a pitch that was offering great assistance to the spinners. With Suresh Raina at the other end offering him full support, Laxman started toying with the Sri Lankan bowlers and showed that there were no demons in the pitch big enough to scare him. His unbeaten 103 helped India ride to a comfortable win in a run chase which they had almost messed up.
6 – 96 vs South Africa at Durban, 2010
Before this game the Indian team had never won a Test Match on South African soil, and when Laxman walked into bat at 48 for 3 in the second innings, it seemed as though the story would remain the same. The South African bowlers were spitting venom at the batsmen on a pitch offering pace and bounce. Most Indian batsmen were finding it extremely difficult to survive, let alone score, with six failing to reach double figures. But it was Laxman who took the bull by the horns, stroking his way to beautiful 96 and taking the team total to 228. This helped the Indians get the monkey off their back, as they registered a historic win. A deserving hundred was denied to this special player, but he surely wouldn’t have had any reason to complain after the win.
5 – 73* vs Australia at Mohali, 2010
Nobody would rate Laxman’s class more than the Australians. Time and again this man would deny them a win, snatch Indian victory from the jaws of defeat. In the 1st Test Match at Mohali during Australia’s 2010 tour to India, he again showed the class he had and demonstrated why he always got under the skin of the Australian bowlers. Chasing 219 for victory in the 2nd innings, India looked set for defeat when he walked in with the team at 76 for 5, which soon turned into 124 for 8. With two wickets remaining, an injury-hampered Laxman took charge of the innings putting up 80 runs for the 9th wicket with Ishant Sharma and then saw that the No. 11 Pragyan Ojha didn’t make any mistakes. Laxman’s patient and measured 73 run knock proved to be the difference between the two sides as he set the mood for the two match series.
4 – 79 vs Australia at Perth, 2008
India were 2-0 down in the Test series and arrived at Perth following the infamous Sydney Test with plenty of bad blood between the two sides. The ‘Monkeygate’ scandal and dubious umpiring decisions in Sydney had put the entire tour in doubt. On arguably the fastest track in the world, not many gave the Indians much of a chance to win the Test Match. After taking a lead in the first innings, India were struggling at 118 for 5 in the second. This is when Laxman pulled something special out of the bag, scoring 79 runs and playing masterfully with the tail to ensure India set an imposing target of 413 for the Australians to chase. India eventually won the match comfortably by 72 runs thanks largely to Laxman’s efforts. The context of this innings and the off-field controversies surrounding the Test Match made this innings special even by Laxman’s standards.
3 – 69 vs Australia at Mumbai, 2004
It may seem strange that an innings of just 69 can be among the best for a batsmen who scored 17 international centuries. Yet, such was the importance of this game, in which Laxman helped India avoid humiliation. It was the 4th Test of the series and Australia were 2-0 up. The Indians, almost unthinkably, were being tormented in their home conditions. Batting first, India were bowled out for 104 on a rank turner and conceded a lead of 99 runs to the visitors. In the second innings, Laxman grafted a determined innings of 69 in the most difficult of circumstances to guide the home side to a narrow win of just 13 runs. The fact that the match ended in less than 200 overs just goes to show the kind of minefield the pitch was. This effort summarised Laxman’s class, as he produced strokes on a pitch where other batsmen found it difficult just to defend.
2 – 148 vs Australia at Adelaide, 2003
This was one of India’s most memorable victories in Australia. While the match is often remembered for Rahul Dravid’s 233, it was VVS Laxman who took the attack to the Australian bowlers and along with Dravid put up a 303 run stand on way to his 148, where he occupied the crease for about 7 hours. The Australians have always seen the best of Laxman where he met their attacking mind-set with his own. More than the quantity of runs, it was the ease with which Laxman scored them that made this innings so special. He took on Australia’s ‘chin music’ by hooking and pulling them fearlessly. His on-side play was a special sight to see and his onslaught forced Australian captain Steve Waugh to resort to a defensive field placement by the middle of the innings. His crucial 32 run knock in the second innings then ensured that India claimed a convincing victory in the Test Match.
1 – 281 vs Australia at Eden Gardens, 2001
No cricket fan could ever forget this epic innings, which was voted as the best test knock of the last 50 years recently by fans from around the world. Cricket pundits describe this as the innings that changed Indian cricket forever and turned them into a formidable side. The world-conquering Australia, under Steve Waugh, had won the first Test in Mumbai convincingly and were on track to win the series in India, a goal Waugh described as the ‘Final Frontier’. Following on with a deficit of 274 runs, India were 115 for 3 at one stage. This is when Laxman, teaming up with Rahul Dravid, played a gem of an innings scoring 281 and stitching a partnership of 376 runs. The duo carried their bats through the 4th Day and ensured India was in a winning position by the end of it. Australia were then bowled out on the 5th day, earning India its most remarkable victory of all time.
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