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

'These situations get the best out of me' - Laxman

India's man of the moment reflects on yet another under-pressure classic against his favourite opponents

Sidharth Monga in Mohali

October 5, 2010

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VVS Laxman pulls during his match-winning innings, 1st Test, Mohali, India v Australia, 5th day, October 5, 2010
Message to the opposition: Back spasms are a sign VVS Laxman is going to come up with a masterclass © Getty Images
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Waiting in Taj Chandigarh for VVS Laxman to arrive, I was reminded of Taj Samudra in Colombo, just after India's previous Test, in August this year. That game, too, had a similar ending to the one in Mohali. Laxman, fighting back spasms, stood at square leg (then too he needed a runner), arms aloft, his team-mates congratulating him for a match-winning effort in the fourth innings. If anything, this came from an impossible situation and despite worse pain.

Then, too, Laxman had to stay back at the ground for treatment. Today, he couldn't even last the post-match presentation, and left midway. About an hour later, he arrived at the team hotel with a smile on his face and what looked like an X-ray report in his hand. It was so like Colombo. Then too he was more than happy to give us a few minutes despite the obvious pain he was in. He had spread joy on the field, there was no harm sharing it off it too. Even today, with a flight scheduled in the evening, and that hurting back, he sat down for a chat.

"We'll do it like the last time?" Laxman asks. Which meant he wanted to talk in the foyer.

"We have a nice routine going," I say in reply. "You win a match, and we talk in the hotel lobby."

"The routine is nice," he says. "But the pain is not." And laughs.

During the chat we remind ourselves that those back spasms are not that bad a thing. The first time Laxman suffered those spasms was in March 2001. Over the next week, he played the greatest Test innings of all at one of the greatest places to play Test cricket in. Three improbable wins out of three is not a bad strike rate for those spasms at all.

While there might be a general agreement, statistically proven of course, that back spasms have given Test cricket three unforgettable innings, a thought needs to be spared for the back. And both the physios, Nitin Patel now and Andrew Leipus in 2000-01, are people Laxman doesn't stop thanking.

"I have been doing a lot of mobilisation exercises on my lower back and my upper back," he says of the last three days. "Various techniques Nitin uses to relieve spasms. Also a lot of painkiller injections." Three of them in fact. Followed by tablets before the start of the game today, and then at each break in the play.

Last night was spent thinking about the back. "I was not sure how it would hold up," Laxman says. "Then I went and had a net. Last three days I was doing nothing but sitting and having treatment. So I had a net last evening, to make sure the spasms didn't aggravate. Even if they aggravated, I would have had enough time to recover by the match. It seemed okay in the last night. I was quite apprehensive about how my back would be."

As any team would, Australia too bowled a lot of bouncers and flighted offbreaks wide of off to make sure he has to put his back in discomfort. Pain, though, was to disappear soon. Once he drove Nathan Hauritz through the covers, Laxman could feel it. "Once you are in the thick of things, your concentration shifts from the pain, and towards the task at hand," Laxman says.

"Once your mind goes away from the pain and towards the goal, it helps. Still at times, especially when I was playing the short-pitched delivery, it was quite painful. Because of the awkward movement."

The physical pain was forgotten momentarily, but wickets were falling at the other end. That is why perhaps Laxman is generous in applauding Ishant Sharma, the No. 10 who stuck around with him for 106 minutes. "He had been struggling with the injury," Laxman says. "The last three-four days he has been taking injections on his leg. To come and bowl as well as he did yesterday, and then this innings, was a marvellous effort.

"What impressed me most about him was the temperament. We had little chats in the middle. And when, towards the end, Mitchell Johnson troubled him, he told me he wasn't comfortable facing him. Then only I started to try and face more of Johnson. It was important to have that trust. There was no way I could have done it alone. But I have always had a lot of confidence in Ishant."

 
 
I was Hyderabad's main batsman and I had to get a lot of runs for them. I think the earlier part of my career with Hyderabad taught me a lot to take responsibility. Probably that helped me a lot.
 

After Ishant, too, Laxman had to try and farm the strike so that Pragyan Ojha got as little of Johnson to face as possible. In doing so, on the fifth ball of a Ben Hilfenhaus, Laxman wanted his runner, Suresh Raina, and Ojha to go for a sharp single. Ojha did not make a quick enough start. Laxman was all arms and words then. This was a first: Laxman involved in an un-nice moment.

"I knew the last ball would be a bouncer, and there was no way I could have taken a single off that ball," Laxman said. "So we had to take the single on the fifth ball, so I get a little ... It was wrong on my part, and that's what I apologised to Ojha for at the end of that over. I asked him to be calm, and not lose his composure, and not get tense and panic. Because he also played six-seven balls, and that was crucial in the end."

Okay, this is more the Laxman we know. Which is what confounds me often. The kind of innings Laxman is known for remind me of street-smart cricketers like Javed Miandad and Arjuna Ranatunga. Laxman is an entirely different character. How does he do it so often in those situations? He has a great theory.

"I think sometimes these situations get the best out of me, from the mental point of view," Laxman says. "Mentally I have always relished these situations. Always think right from my younger days, I really want to do well in such situations. If I don't do well, I feel really bad and that I have let the team down. I keep discussing with my coaches that I should be in the same mind frame when the going is easy also.

"Probably something to do with Hyderabad. Because when I was playing at that time, I was their main batsman and I had to get a lot of runs for them. I think the earlier part of my career with Hyderabad taught me a lot to take responsibility. Probably that helped me a lot.

"So mentally not much, but physically this took a toll on my back." Some things, though, get better in the pain.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

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Posted by Indian_Rules on (October 8, 2010, 6:42 GMT)

@ ragh910 . VVS Laxman has been playing for India since the time even before u knew how to spell bat... so shut up and dont show you immaturity over here.. go buya juice and cool ur head and let us all praise laxman here and enjoy our nations victory

Posted by Raviss on (October 7, 2010, 19:52 GMT)

wat a player.. Laxman is really a Very Very Special Batsman.. very underrated and not given his due.. well played Lax.. it was a gem..

Posted by Hindh on (October 7, 2010, 14:57 GMT)

@ragh cry babies like him keep on whining on trifle things coz they do not have any valid points to make.... Aussies cud not take no 10 and 11 indian wickets thats the reason they lost..... Half fit indian bowling took 20 aussie wickets.... reality bites.....

Posted by avssrs on (October 7, 2010, 12:56 GMT)

All this righteous indignation is a bit out of place. Never been a big fan of Ricky Ponting but he's been one of the good guys this time. What if Punter had said Sorry VVS, can't allow you a runner? It really was his call and he made the right one. Maybe he would have gone the other way in a pre-SCG match. But post-SCG, following a proper dressing down by the Aussie public themselves, Ricky and his team mates have often shown a good bit of sportsmanship, for which that have not gotten enough credit.

Well done several people. Zak for obvious reasons. Mitch for bowling with pace and heart in conditions alien to him. Punter for allowing VVS a runner and still making a game of it. Sachin for a solid 98. VVS, well what can I say, one of my favourite batsmen and an absolute star. India and Australia fans on this board who look at both sides of a story instead of hastily proceeding to put a foot in it. Not so well done some other fans on this board.

Posted by DamieninFrance on (October 7, 2010, 8:24 GMT)

As an Australian, I was disappointed that we lost the test. But as a cricketer, how can you not admire this man? For all of the praise that Tendulkar gets in India, I can assure you that Australians put more weight on Laxman's wickets than SRT's. I've now seen Laxman put Australia to the sword on TV in Sydney 2000, and THAT test in 2001 in India. I sat in the outer through the whole test in Adelaide when he and Dravid combined to win for the first time in Australia in decades in 2003-4. And now, after following what he managed again, two days ago, I have nothing but admiration for one of the world's greatest cricketers! It's wonderful to see that world cricket is competitive again. Shame that this series is only two tests...

Posted by ragh910 on (October 6, 2010, 21:08 GMT)

I am surprsed that most of you are spouting ur criticism on me instead of Laxman..But still none of you answered my question..

When was the last time Laxman did'nt use a runner..??

Posted by   on (October 6, 2010, 19:47 GMT)

Mr. Mental disintegrator, what a knock again! Aussies played well in taking first innings lead, India lost a sub-plot there, few more would have been disastrous.

Posted by   on (October 6, 2010, 18:45 GMT)

Amazing bit of batsmanship we could watch. Reminded me the time he started playing with the tail so nonchalantly as if he was playing with the top order. That not only helped him to contribute well to the team, it gave the confidence that is necessary for tail enders to perform. Gone are the days where India lost the last 4 or 5 very cheap. Infact at times, they end up contributing more than the top half, thanks to the anchor!! Well done and continue the great work. Proud of u!!

Posted by sponnaganti on (October 6, 2010, 17:49 GMT)

Hats off to LAXMAN . What a wonderful innings under pressure with killing back pain. He's a boon to Indian cricket. He's a legend. @Ragh910 : Mr Ragh910, I suggest you to see a psychologist . Because you are thinking in wrong direction. If you ignore it , a day will come on which you'll yell on your self.

Posted by   on (October 6, 2010, 17:04 GMT)

why don't we have Laxman in our ODI squad? I believe that he is the only guy in the Indian team, who can play the pull shot with enormous ease. We need either Laxman or Dravid in our ODI squad, should India win the World Cup. The short ball exposes the weakness in the Indian middle order. Hopefully the selectors remember the past experiences n select a balanced team.

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