When Laxman bats like he did today ...
When VVS Laxman plays like he did today, there isn't a worry in the world. For 470 minutes over the last two days even the Feroz Shah Kotla's garish stand at the Tata End didn't look ugly. For 470 minutes, Laxman disguised violence with grace and left Australia hopelessly spellbound.
When Laxman plays like he did today, fielders don't matter. Their placement and angles become superfluous. If there are men blocking his whip through midwicket, he can always hit the ball straight past mid-on - and sometimes mid-off - and time it just as well. Early this morning, Laxman had Michael Clarke, at short extra cover, staring him in the face. One typically crunchy push-drive went straight to him, and Australia's plan seemed to be working. The next ball was of similar length but Laxman waited for that extra half a second and played the same shot. This time Clarke had no chance. The other fielders would have experienced the same helplessness at various times throughout the day.
When Laxman plays like he did today, he is one of the most difficult batsmen to bowl to. Mitchell Johnson can bowl as full and wide as he likes, but Laxman will just flick his wrists and hit the ball from outside off to send it speeding to the long-on boundary. Clarke can come over the wicket and pitch it in the rough as much as he likes, but Laxman will either whip him against the spin or clear his leg and play inside out. Brett Lee can bowl as many bouncers and outswingers as he likes, but Laxman will roll his wrists to keep the pulls down or drive them wristily through the covers. Stuart Clark, the only bowler who managed to keep him quiet, admitted that Laxman, when on song, was the hardest batsman to bowl to. "He's very wristy, hits to midwicket from outside off stump, although we did plan for that," Clark said. "He played really well, got on top, and once the momentum went it was hard to get it back."
When Laxman plays like he did today, you leave the ground with memorable shots replaying in your head. He was on 13 yesterday when he played the first one: his front foot came out, his bat met the ball right under his head, and no flourishing follow-through was required. It was a decent delivery from Shane Watson and didn't deserve the treatment it got.
When Laxman plays like he did today, he makes audacious shots look classical. Johnson bowled one wide outside off stump and Laxman's response - a flick to long-on boundary - would evoke awe, and not outrage, from the purists. The next ball was similar, but a touch shorter, and Laxman late-cut it for four. Two overs later, he picked one up from off-stump and whipped it to the square-leg boundary.
When Laxman plays like he did today, he paces his innings superbly. He scored 17 off 19 balls out of the first 50 runs in his 278-run partnership with Gautam Gambhir. Then came the lean period against Clark during which Laxman took 34 balls to move from 50 to 55. And then he took off, reaching his century off 170 balls and scoring his second 100 off only 130, though he hardly ever looked like he was in a hurry. "I'm very satisfied because, after a long time, I got a score more than 150," Laxman said. "I was getting hundreds but was unable to get big hundreds. Hopefully this will start a process and I'll get big hundreds."
When Laxman plays like he did today, his opponents are usually Australia. This was his sixth century, his second double, and his fifth score of more than 140 against his favourite team. When he plays his 100th Test, in Nagpur, he would have played 24 matches but scored 33% of his runs against them. Often he has been asked what it is about Australia that brings out the best in him. And often he has said they are an aggressive side which allows him to play his natural game. It shows too, for nearly 36% of his career boundaries have come against Australia.
When Laxman plays like he did, he often sets up matches for India, like he did today. The declaration came soon after Laxman's double-century and then the hard work started in the field for India. Until then there wasn't a worry in the world.