India v Australia, 1st Test, Mohali, 5th day October 5, 2010

India's Atlas, Australia's nemesis

Cricketers spend entire careers wishing they could bat in a crisis like they do in a normal situation, Laxman wishes for the opposite

Atlas had a bad back. Atlas took a few injections, popped some painkillers, did some exercises. Then Atlas turned up at 76 for 5 in a fourth innings, coolly scored 73 off 79 (despite having turned down about 10 singles), forgot the pain, and carried India all the way through.

This Atlas, though, does the dirty job with a certain style, creating symphonies with ambulance sirens around him. His team-mates have variously spoken of the soothing effect VVS Laxman has on them. That soothing Laxman moment came some five minutes before lunch today.

A small but tense crowd at the PCA Stadium had lost its voice by then. Resigned to defeat, they were just hoping for the lunch break to delay the final rites. Laxman and Ishant Sharma, Atlas and his deputy, on their feet thanks to shots and tablets, had added 29. Australia had by then started denying Laxman boundaries. They looked to plug his favourite area with two men who were almost two deep midwickets. Ben Hilfenhaus bowled back of a length, outside off, and Laxman still pulled it. The back may have been wobbly but the wrists were still there, persuading the ball between the two men.

Hang on, we thought, were we missing something beautiful in the tension of the result? For that moment, when the ball sped through what hardly looked like a gap, it was possible to just admire the beauty of that shot in isolation. Laxman, though, is almost embarrassed when you talk to him about the beauty of his batting. He can't understand what the big deal is, for he hasn't seen it from the outside. He might never know what we feel when we see him bat. However, it is his mental strength that he takes pride in; and his team-mates too.

Laxman has often been the most disposable member of the Indian team. It seems he has been playing for his place in the side throughout his career. Still, he has played so many of these saviour knocks for India that he thrives on these situations now. Possibly he longs for them. At least he wishes he could bat the same way in normal circumstances as he does in a crisis. Cricketers spend entire careers wishing to bat in a crisis as they do in a normal situation, but in Laxman's world, crisis is normal, and normal not so exciting.

Last evening, around when Ricky Ponting was warning his mates of the Laxman threat, Laxman was in the nets, testing his back, conscious that his absence in the first innings might have put India in a position from where they could lose. He had had back spasms during his match-winning century in India's previous Test too. Had India lost this one, his head would have been called for again, given the injury history and his age. In the world of Laxman, you thrive on this.

Normally, just before he comes in to bat, Laxman is hard to find in the dressing room. He is either sleeping under some bench or listening to some music on his headphones. Today he was listening to Nitin Patel, the team physio, desperately trying to get things right. Then Zaheer Khan, the nightwatchman, fell. The crowd sighed in relief when Laxman came out and not MS Dhoni.

Australia were going to put more stress on his back. There would be a fast bowler bowling bouncers, a spinner tossing it up, asking him to stretch and drive.

Soon enough the flighted delivery came. Laxman leaned forward and drove it through the covers for four. The pain was forgotten momentarily. "I had timed that well," he says. You bet you had. Ponting passively chewed gum. To the next ball, Laxman went forward and then rocked back, and took four through extra cover. The mix of injections and adrenalin was working.

Out in the middle Laxman hardly showed emotion. Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal brought along the drinks, and with them more painkillers and exercises from Patel. When Dhoni ran himself out, Laxman just stood by the stumps, helpless, watching another wicket fall. Dhoni charged straight off. If Suresh Raina, Laxman's runner, was dreading blame would be apportioned to him, he was wrong. Laxman just looked away. Later Raina almost ran Laxman out, minutes before lunch, but the two came back for the interval with smiles on their faces. Nothing calms you like Laxman, they say.

A possible criticism of Laxman's batting at times can be that he doesn't take charge with the tail often enough. He lets them bat unless they find a bowler difficult to face. That, though, has been the Laxman style throughout, and the results are not to be argued with. Only once did Ishant ask to be shielded, and Laxman did that, against Mitchell Johnson. When you have a tailender as determined as Ishant, those singles can otherwise be picked. Ishant faced 92 balls to Laxman's 79, but there was no way one wounded man was letting another down.

The umpiring did let them down, though, removing Ishant with 11 runs still to go. Laxman still just stood upright and stared into the openness. Pragyan Ojha, though, was slow to start, not awake to twos and ones that would manoeuvre the strike. Then something rare happened. Laxman got animated, shouting at Ojha, asking him to run, willing him to run. If he didn't have a runner, surely Laxman would have managed those runs - so high was he then. "Obviously, I didn't want to lose after having come so close," he says.

Laxman being Laxman, he apologised to Ojha during the over break. That's perhaps why the team loves him so. That's perhaps why he generates so much confidence, so much calm, so much goodness. In almost an anti-climactic slice of luck, India sped through the last six runs.

Once again, rather fittingly, Laxman was not in the winning frame. Just like at the P Sara, where he had had a runner when the winning runs were scored, he stood at square leg even as Ojha jumped up and down. The team, though, was not going to leave their Atlas alone. While in Colombo they walked out as if they had known Laxman was always going to win them the match, there was more exuberance today, but they were still not going to mob him Twenty20-style. In the world of Laxman, you don't act all surprised after one of his near-impossible match-winning knocks.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rohan on October 8, 2010, 17:24 GMT

    What an innings! Maybe if he continues like this we can try him for an ODI series,against SA or NZ and then decide whether he should play the world cup or not!!!!!!!!!

  • Chandra Sekhar on October 7, 2010, 8:43 GMT

    No doubt about it, that Sachin is the best batsman of India, but in tense situation (like yesterday) Very Very Special Laxman is miles ahed than any batsman of india even than Sachin. It has proved several times. I think all of you agree with me. I dont understand why he always underestimated. India dont need bat like Dhoni but Laxman. When he plays shot, it seems like dream. Lot of newsprints have been wasted by criticising about his fitness, age, running between the wickets etc., but these things dont give any charm as it gives Laxman's bat. I hope, after this all type of criticisms will stop against him.

  • Pratik on October 7, 2010, 8:29 GMT

    "Creating symphonies with ambulance sirens around him." Wow... This so completely describes Laxman and his greatness.

  • arjun on October 7, 2010, 6:47 GMT

    @hari_airtel " But the fact is when it comes to turning around games and finishing it by staying till the end, Laxman has done it on numerous occasions than Sachin(only in Test Cricket)." ------------ i agree with your post except for this part. There are so many loop holes in it. For starters, laxman comes at 5 or 6th so staying till the end is part of it. If he opened and stayed till end your argument would have weight. For example sehwag averaged 86 in last 1year, so according to your theory his contribution does not have equal value as laxman's. Every run is important. Since it is team game everyone has to contribute. Laxman did not contribute in first innings but others did. No-one can say that 1st innings contributions do not count. Even in second innings every run scored by say ishant was equally important as laxman's because if he got out there was no way laxman could have stayed till end and win match for us. Its a team game. This is why MOM was zaheer & not laxman nor sach.

  • Hariharan on October 7, 2010, 2:38 GMT

    Its very sad that we are drawing comparisons between Sachin and Laxman as who is the greatest. We tend to forget that both are from the same team and has immense respect for each other. If you compare both Sachin and Laxman as batsmen, there is no doubt Sachin is best. But the fact is when it comes to turning around games and finishing it by staying till the end, Laxman has done it on numerous occasions than Sachin(only in Test Cricket). I'm surprised by few quotes of our friends here like "your Laxman" & "my Sachin". Boss, at the end of it all they play for India which is the no. 1 team. Lets cherish these moments.

  • Nitin on October 6, 2010, 21:50 GMT

    @Ravichakra...hey buddy thanks for accepting my suggestion...keep doing your part (criticizing Sachin) and Sachin will do his...

  • arjun on October 6, 2010, 21:48 GMT

    @ ravichakra "Just pick up Sachin's last 2 years performances against meaningful opposition and demonstrate that he has contributed to India's success." ------------ Okey i do that for you. You seems to be blind. In last two years laxman averages 67 in indian wins, guess what sachin averages 86. Now you say it is because of bangladesh. So lets see without bangladesh - so last 2 years averages vs Aus. Lax = 38 , sach = 71. vs England lax = 25, sach = 140, vs New zealand lax = 30 , sachin = 160. So here you go you were singing praises of laxman where as sachin has done nothing for you. All these runs value and contribute in ranking. Aus,England New Zealand etc all are meaningful. In fact even bangladesh is meaningful because points are counted in rankings. You are dumb and biased as they make'em.

  • arjun on October 6, 2010, 21:19 GMT

    @ravichakra "Just prove it by statistics how Sachin has contributed to India being the no.1 Test team" ----------- you are out of your mind. I prove it to you. Take out 136 runs that sachin scored from this match and let me know if you can win this match. Your great laxman scored exactly 2 runs in first innings where sachin scored 98. Your great laxman was the main reason we did not take lead in first innings. your great laxman was the main reason we were in that dire situation. Here are cold numbers for you sachin has scored 6 centuries in last 12 months at average of 81. And these include the times your great laxman left team in lurch. Remeber sri lanka where dravid and laxman were more of liability than a player. Thanks to sehwag and sachin we could save some face. Tendulkar's number speak for him take any format take any criteria. Even against Australia where laxman seems to do best sachin average higher than him (sachin's 56 vs 55) and in Aus sachin's 58 vs lax' 54. Are the stats

  • Dummy4 on October 6, 2010, 20:37 GMT

    @ravichakra It was criminal of Sachin to play that kind of shot in the second innings.But still he is the next best batsman after Sehwag in the past 2 years.Every series or other has a contribution from Sachin and if you fail to see this then only god can help you.India did well in 2 WC campaigns 96 and 03 and it featured Tendulkar as a opener.He relishes facing the new ball in ODIs and he sets the platform for the wins.And of course he is not a liability in the field unlike Laxman and Dravid.Don't tell me you are a Dravid fan?

  • Parthasarathy on October 6, 2010, 19:11 GMT

    @ MahendraSinghisKinng, Can you prove the stats that you are talking about? Had Sachin contributed in match winning innings from the 90s, India would have been the number one Test team way back then not now. Don't shoot off in the air, provide links where Laxman has failed match after match and Sachin has won those games for us.As far as his scoring centuries every time he goes out to bat, I would rather prefer a player whom I can depend on every time he goes out to bat. I would rather love to see a player who rises to the ocassion. When the going gets tough, the tough get going. In this case, Sachin only gets going back to the dressing room when the going gets tough. Pull out Test matches where India is on the verge of defeat and the matches have been turned around by Sachin. All his 13837 runs can be shove up his ..... Where was he when India needed just 120 runs to win in Barbados? Where was he when India was following on at Calcutta? Where was he when India won at Adelaide?

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