The older lot in the Indian dressing room knows it all too well and now the younger generation got to witness it at the P Sara Oval in Colombo: Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman is a bad wicket genius. Laxman’s flawless hundred had Murali Vijay giving him a bow when he was returning to the dressing room while Dravid and Tendulkar could just not stop smiling.
Captain MS Dhoni was effusive with praise when talking about Laxman’s innings. “He (Laxman) proved today why he is called very, very special,” Dhoni said. “He always comes up with innings that have a huge bearing on the game. It was very important for him to score runs as the team needed it most to level the series. I think it is a very special innings. Hopefully, he plays plenty more innings like this for us.”
The wicket didn’t seem like a fifth day surface because Laxman was in his groove. On this very wicket the home team had lost the cream of its batting for a handful of runs the previous morning and it was the same wicket where India lost three frontline batsmen in quick time on the fourth day’s evening.
Laxman came to the crease early on the fifth morning, India tottering at 62 for four, to join Tendulkar who was on 15. Twenty four balls and five runs later a ball by Randiv took the inside edge of Tendulkar’s bat and flew from the pad to the right of short-leg where Dilshan failed to grab it. Tendulkar murdered the very next delivery to the mid-off fence and the game-plan changed to going for runs. The 24 balls after the dropped catch went for 17 runs; the bat-pad becoming the turning point from where Laxman and Tendulkar took the attack to the Lankans.
Laxman was also troubled by back spasms during his knock but he continued without a runner for as long as he could and then finally asked for one. His batting, though, was unaffected and resplendent. He drove, pulled, flicked, dabbed, and worked the ball with ease and got his runs at a strike rate of almost 70 with 12 hits to the boundary.
‘Oh ho, ho, ho, ho’. That is how Sunil Gavaskar described some of Laxman’s strokes during India’s 2003-04 tour of Australia. Gavaskar recited it during the Sydney Test where Laxman scored a sublime 178 that was studded with 30 fours. Gavaskar also explained on TV that in Mumbai when someone plays shots like the ones Laxman was pulling off then all you say is ‘Oh, ho, ho, ho, ho’. Laxman scored two big hundreds in that tour (in Adelaide and Sydney) and a 75 in Brisbane that he rated as his best.
The Australians won the return series in India by taking the first Test in Bangalore, drawing the second, and mauling India on a green top in Nagpur in the third before a rank turner awaited the two teams in Mumbai. The Indians batted first in Mumbai and were bowled out for 104 and Australia responded with 203. The wicket was getting tougher by the hour and India needed above 200 to give the Aussies a target of 100 plus batting last.
India was 14 for two and Laxman on 8 when Tendulkar joined him in the sixth over. One run came from the seventh over of the innings bowled by Jason Gillespie and then the Aussies bowled three maidens on the trot. Then the counterattack started and Tendulkar hit three fours in an over to Gillespie and Laxman hit three to McGrath. At the end of 10 overs India was 15 for two and at the end of 12 they hopped to 41.
Laxman made 69 with 12 fours and combined with Tendulkar, who scored 55, to give India a total to defend. Needing 107 to win the Aussies were bundled out for 93 and India salvaged some pride out of an otherwise disappointing series.
In the Sydney Test in 2008, Laxman again batted at number three and scored an impressive hundred that revived India after the hiding in Melbourne and under the pressure of big first innings runs in the New Year Test. The crucial performance of the tour came in the second innings in Perth. India took the first innings lead of 118 runs but the team was in a tough position in the second when Laxman joined Irfan Pathan at 125 for 5. The stylish Hyderabadi was the last man to be dismissed on 79; with the team total at 294 and a target of 413 for the Aussies. India went on to create history by becoming the first team from the subcontinent to win at Perth.
“Nothing calms you like Laxman,” Rahul Dravid wrote when Laxman moved past the 100 Test mark. That calming influence could be the reason that Laxman has been involved in three partnerships of over 300; two with Dravid and one with Tendulkar and all against Australia. The Wisden rated Laxman’s magnificient 281 against Australia at the Eden Gardens as the sixth best Test innings of all times.
Laxman has manoeuvred India’s ship out of choppy waters many a times even though he hasn’t enjoyed that kind of safety for his own place in the side. On second thoughts it may not be such a bad thing for Laxman as we all know that the tougher the situation the more are the chances that Laxman would come good.