'It was a relief to get a hundred' - Laxman
Many modern coaches speak of the importance of visualisation. VVS Laxman doesn't need to imagine things when he arrives at Eden Gardens. He just needs to tap into the memory bank and recall the greatest innings in India's cricket history. Whatever he does, it works. This was his fifth century in 10 Kolkata Tests. No one apart from Donald Bradman (128.53 at the MCG) and Greg Chappell (111.77 at The Gabba) averages more at a venue where they have batted at least ten times, than Laxman at Eden (110.63).
"I have always enjoyed batting at the Eden Gardens," he said after the second day's play. "It's a great ground with a lot of history. Even though there were not a lot at this Test match, the spectators make it special."
For such a gifted batsman, Laxman would be the first to admit that he could have made bigger scores. This was his first century since August 2010. "It was a relief to get a hundred," he said. "The last hundred I got was against Sri Lanka in the last Test match at P Sara Oval where the team was under tremendous pressure. After that, I have played knocks in pressure situations. Luckily, in this Test match, Sehwag and Gautam gave us a good start, and Rahul and Sachin had a good partnership.
"When I went in to bat, the position wasn't very challenging but it was important for us to build a partnership at that stage and that's what Rahul and I tried to do. It was also important to get a big score in the first innings especially seeing the nature of the wicket, which will deteriorate on the third and fourth days. Even though I had some valuable 50s under my belt, it is always satisfying to get a hundred."
His best efforts in that 15-month period between tons came at Mohali and Kingsmead. The first inspired a remarkable one-wicket win against Australia, while the second was a matchless 96 in conditions that no other batsman could master. When the going's good though, Laxman hasn't always thrived, and he admitted as much.
"When Paddy Upton was the mental conditioning coach, we tried various strategies to get the best out of me, especially in a situation where the team is not under a lot of pressure," he said. "This is the first time in a long time where the team has not been in a difficult or challenging position and I have gone and got a hundred."
Thoughts of a double-hundred were quickly scotched as the light waned in the afternoon, and he had no hesitation in walking off with an unbeaten 176 to his name. "The light was fading, especially after MS [Dhoni] got out," he said. "We wanted to bowl at least 20 to 22 overs at the West Indies this evening, that's why we declared when we did."
The declaration was made possible by a stunning onslaught from Dhoni, who bludgeoned 116 runs in an extended second session in which India rattled 180 runs. Laxman did the sensible thing and picked off as many singles as he could, watching from the bowler's end as Dhoni laid waste an exhausted attack.
"Whenever he hits a six, he says he didn't connect the ball," said Laxman with a big grin on his face. "I just start laughing because he easily clears the boundary. In fact even in the last Test match here against South Africa, we had a similar partnership where both of us remained unbeaten. It was the same today.
"When we needed quick runs, it was easy for me because Dhoni was at the other side and common sense says you take a single and give him as much strike as possible because he is definitely a cleaner hitter than me. It's always great to see Dhoni [batting]. He is a brilliant batsman, he puts the bowlers under pressure right from the word go."
Laxman's innings spanned 391 minutes and given the problems he's had with his back in recent years, he was pleased to have emerged from it with little discomfort. He did cramp up after playing a pull shot, but credited the physio and trainer for his improved fitness levels.
If there was a hint of disappointment, it was at the sparse turnout, at a ground renowned for vociferous and intimidating crowds. "We always felt that Kolkata was one place where you had a lot of support for Test match cricket," he said. "It's quite strange, I am not sure what the exact reason behind that is, but as I said earlier, it's always a great feeling playing here. Whenever I come here, all of you remind me about the 2001 Test match. That gives a lot of inspiration to me and all the guys who were involved in that game."
Light permitting, Laxman was confident that India could make scoreboard pressure tell over the coming days. "The wicket is already turning and there is good bounce for the spinners," he said. "Hopefully, our bowlers can bowl in the right areas and we can win the game."