Australia v India, 3rd Test, Perth, 3rd day January 18, 2008

Laxman shows very, very steely side



VVS Laxman made an uncharacteristically workmanlike 79 to put India in the ascendancy © AFP
 

It was family day here at the WACA. Any youngster less than 15 years of age, if accompanied by someone older, would be allowed free entry. Many parents might have brought their kids along hoping for a special innings from VVS Laxman, a rubber-wristed masterclass where he usually races along in fifth gear.

What they got to see, though, was the beauty of graft, an artist showing his blue-collar ethic, a supremely-talented batsman mining industriously. Jaws didn't drop, like in Sydney, but a job was accomplished without much fuss. Mostly workmanlike, it contained a little sprinkling of stardust. In close to four hours the match gradually swung. Yet again it was Laxman steering an Indo-Australian contest.

Australians normally mention Laxman in the same breath as Tendulkar but rarely would they have seen this side of him. Starting with his 95 in Kolkata, a forgotten gem from 1998 when he first drove Shane Warne inside out, he's been one to get instantly in the groove. Whether it's his epic 281, again in Kolkata, or his three classics in Sydney, or his cracker in Adelaide, or even his nuggets in Mumbai, Chennai and Brisbane he's opened the game up quite rapidly.

Here he was willing to wait and inch India towards the ascendancy. He walked in amid a mini-collapse and weathered an outstanding spell of pace. Never one to hustle the singles, he bided his time for the loose ball. Mitchell Johnson had just removed Sourav Ganguly, and Brett Lee, like he's done through this Test, bustled in with high energy. He ducked and weaved and angled a few down to third man. He saw Mahendra Singh Dhoni struggle for the gaps - stuck on five for 43 balls - and encouraged him to hang in there.

It was tough out there. He muttered to himself before every ball and performed a seemingly-superstitious ritual after each - tapping the bat seven or eight times on the popping crease. His first four was streaky but with the second, a magical flick through midwicket, was more like Laxman in full flight.

The carpentry wasn't without flourishes. Occasionally he teased the opposition. Picking Symonds from outside off he whipped him in front of square, taunting the fielder all the way to the boundary. Few current batsmen torment the fielders as much, timing with such precision that the chaser thinks he has a chance, only to see the ball scurry over the rope eventually.

"More than getting a hundred, it's about helping the team to win matches," he said. "And I enjoy playing under such situations. It's been that way throughout, not only for India but for Hyderabad and South Zone as well. These situations seem to bring the best out of me. It was important to analyse the situation and I took maximum strike against Lee. RP was happy to face Shaun Tait and Stuart Clark at the other end. I believed our tailenders were capable batsmen. And the way they responded was encouraging.

"It was important to get more than 400," he said. "That's why the partnership with RP was important. Dhoni played a mature knock, like he's done many times in the last six to eight months and RP's effort was commendable. To bat like that against Australian quicks in Perth required a lot of determination and grit."

 
 
What they got to see was the beauty of graft, an artist showing his blue-collar ethic, a supremely-talented batsman mining industriously. Mostly workmanlike, it contained a little sprinkling of stardust. In close to four hours the match gradually swung. Yet again it was Laxman steering an Indo-Australian contest
 

Brick by brick, he stretched the lead before, quite uncharacteristically, deciding to go for broke. Left to shepherd the lower order, he backed away and tried to slog. Classical musicians, we learnt, can also head-bang. He refused singles, even when he found the gap between second slip and gully two balls in a row, and clattered Lee with a touch of arrogance. It was like watching some of his late-order one-day batting from the past, when he manufactured ungainly strokes to up the ante.

The end was uncharacteristic: backing away outside leg, moving into a front-on position, he tried to find a gap on the off side and beat deep point. Shielding the No. 11, he was trying to squeeze the ball in the gap. The thick edge flew straight to the keeper and Laxman ended up looking slightly awkward. It was possibly Australia's first sighting of his gritty side but the value of one of his "best innings" wouldn't have been lost on anyone. Very, very steely works just fine.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is an assistant editor at Cricinfo