Indian cricket became poorer for the second time this year, with VVS Laxman following Rahul Dravid into the sunset of retirement. Laxman’s announcement came as a surprise to many, especially since he was picked for the home season-opening two Test series against New Zealand, and the fact is that he was also given a chance to play for the last time at his home ground in Hyderabad. But being the dignified person he is, Laxman decided to quit cricket with ‘immediate effect’ after serving the nation in 134 Tests, leaving behind a legacy, which included memories of once-in-a-lifetime performance – the epic 281 which was instrumental in instilling a new winning belief in Team India at the start of the previous decade.
Laxman had a wonderful ability to quickly adapt to tough situations. Which is why, many of his memorable knocks have come in intensely crisis situations. Rewind to Kolkata 2001, where Laxman came up with a showing which has been unmatched. He came in at one drop in the second innings, instead of his customary number 6, with India 222 in arrears and staring at a tame series surrender. When Tendulkar and Ganguly were also out, India 42 behind with 6 wickets left. But Laxman was in his element, and all he needed was some solid support – he got it through Dravid, with whom he had swapped positions from the first innings.
What followed was the catalyst in India’s future Test fortunes – the duo put on 376 for the 5th wicket to pulverise the world champions into a submission of shock. Never has there been a partnership which has impacted a team’s winning pattern so drastically, and never has there been a knock which has singularly put fear into the invincible Australians of yore. Laxman had achieved that, his 281 being the highest score by an Indian at that point. Laxman’s marathon innings squeezed the confidence out of the Aussies, and they succumbed to a defeat minutes before stumps on the final day. India went on to win the series (Laxman scoring 65 and 66 in the third test at Chennai), and Australia had discovered that there was indeed, a man who could more than measure up to them. In fact, a warning had been sounded a year back, when he scored a classy 167 at the SCG in a losing cause.
Laxman during his epic 281 – an innings that made India believe
Since then, Laxman went on to become a modern day great, establishing himself as one of the pillars of the successful Ganguly-Wright regime. When India toured Australia the next time after the painful 0-3 debacle in 1999-00, there was an actual belief that India would square up to Steve Waugh’s men. That India took a lead in the second Test, and eventually drew the series was a great achievement, and Laxman continued to build his reputation as Australia’s arch nemesis. He became part of yet another mammoth partnership with Dravid, putting on 303 to rescue India from the depths of 85/4 to 523 in reply to the host’s 556 at Adelaide, and eventually onto a famous victory. Unlike Kolkata, it was Dravid who was the chief contributor (match total of 305), but India’s win would not have been possible without Laxman’s gritty 148. Yet another huge stand followed (353), this time with Tendulkar (241) at Sydney in the final drawn Test, Laxman carving up a stylish 178.
Laxman made his Test debut in 1996-97 at Ahmedabad, and instantly made an impression with a vital 51 in the second innings as India saw off South Africa by 64 runs. Due to his tendency to bat lower down the batting order most of the times, Laxman developed the art of making crucial 50+ scores, often batting brilliantly with the tail to either rescue his team or lead it to victory. The finest example of it came in as recently as 2010-11, where Laxman battled pain and injury to steer India to a memorable, thrilling one wicket win against – Australia of course.
After coming in at no.10 in the first innings due to injury, Laxman came in at no.7 in the second dig, with India tottering at 76/5 on the final day in pursuit of 216. Wickets continued to tumble, and India were reeling at 124/8. Even a Laxman special couldn’t have rescued India. But it did, as he found support in Ishant Sharma, with whom he added 81 for the 9th wicket, before guiding last man Pragyan Ojha like a true senior statesman, as India won under an atmosphere of unbearable tension. Laxman’s 73 was one of the greatest knocks given the situation. Interestingly his 73* took only 79 balls, depicting a pleasant aggression which hardly anyone noticed while the thrilling chase was on.
‘These situations bring the best out of me’, said Laxman. And rightly so, cometh the hour, cometh the (Lax)man. Alas that was among the last of Laxman’s best that fans were to witness. The 2011-12 season was a harsh reminder to him, that the reflexes had slowed down, and that his fitness issues were glaring than ever before. He could accumulate only 337 runs in 16 innings in England and Australia, a India hurtled to losses in each of the games. In between, Laxman soothed his nerves at home with a few good knocks against the West Indies, and was expected to produce one final fling in his ‘other home’ Australia. But it was painful to watch Laxman head back to the pavilion time and again. The man who had McGrath and Warne at his mercy ten years back, was finding the likes of Pattinson and Lyon too hot to handle. The swansong had come earlier than expected.
Though he was selected for the upcoming New Zealand series a few days back, Laxman would have never been comfortable, with critics baying for his ouster. being the team man he is, he gracefully accepted his time was up. His Test average of 45 does not really reflect his worth in the Indian team, because most of his innings could hardly be measured by numbers – it was more to do with the grit and tenacity of the man. Except for the number 281 of course, which in my opinion is the greatest innings to played in the modern era.