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November 6, 2008
Despite being in a batting line-up which includes several heavyweights, VVS Laxman has made his presence felt in no uncertain terms throughout his 12-year Test career. In Nagpur, he completes a century of Tests, a feat achieved by only seven other Indian players.
Parallels are often drawn between him and a follow Hyderabadi whose strokeplay was similarly silken and magical, but one who missed the century landmark by a solitary Test. Not only is Laxman's batting evocative of Mohammad Azharuddin's, their stats are remarkably similar too: Laxman's amazing performance in Delhi against Australia, where he scored 259 runs without being dismissed, ensured his average crept past Azharuddin's, but the sitter he missed from Michael Clarke means the catches tally for both is exactly the same - 105.
Unlike Azharuddin, who blazed his way into Test cricket with three hundreds in successive Tests, Laxman's entry was far more subdued: his first century came in his 17th Test, and his average didn't touch 40 till his 34th.
In fact, Laxman's career can be split into four parts: the first one - lasting 20 matches - was one where he struggled to make a mark, scoring just one century, against Australia in Sydney in 1999-2000. The next phase started with that unforgettable Kolkata Test against Australia in 2001 - Laxman's epic 281 began a glorious run which continued through most of the next three years. He scored six centuries and 13 fifties in 30 Tests during that period. When India toured Australia in 2003-04, Laxman notched up two hundreds, the second of which was the ideal way to celebrate his 50th Test - a sparkling 178 in Sydney, which also pushed his average up to an all-time high of 47.39.
The next three years were largely disappointing, in which he even failed to get runs against his favourite Australian team when they toured in 2004-05. His only hundreds in those 30 Tests came against Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka and West Indies. That barren spell was broken when Pakistan toured in 2007-08, and since then Laxman has been fairly consistent - he was the only middle-order batsman in the Indian line-up to score two half-centuries on the tour of Sri Lanka, where they struggled to find answers to Ajantha Mendis.
|First 20 Tests||866||27.06||1/ 5|
|Next 30 Tests||2594||63.26||6/ 13|
|Next 30 Tests||1418||33.76||3/ 9|
|Last 19 Tests||1435||59.79||3/ 9|
A significant reason for Laxman's early failures was his position in the batting order: for most of his first 20 Tests he opened the innings, a responsibility which clearly didn't bring out the best in him. Exclude his stats as an opener, and Laxman's average shoots up to almost 49, with 44 fifty-plus scores in 86 matches.
|Position||Tests||Runs||Average||Strike rate||100s/ 50s|
|Middle order||86||5628||48.93||49.66||12/ 32|
The one aspect of Laxman's career that will always stand out is his performance against the best team of his era. The Australians invariably brought out the best in him - in seven series, the only time he failed utterly was at home in 2004-05, when he averaged 17.57 in four Tests. Overall, in 23 Tests against them, Laxman averages a splendid 56.21, the highest among all batsmen who've scored at least 1500 Test runs against Australia since 1970. His heroics in Delhi means his average against them has nudged ahead of Tendulkar's. Of the three times Laxman has won the Man-of-the-Match award, two have come against Australia.
|VVS Laxman||23||2136||56.21||6/ 9|
|Sachin Tendulkar||28||2627||55.89||9/ 11|
|Clive Lloyd||25||1896||52.66||5/ 10|
|Sunil Gavaskar||20||1550||51.66||8/ 4|
|Brian Lara||31||2856||51.00||9/ 11|
|Geoff Boycott||26||2192||49.81||6/ 10|
|Richie Richardson||29||2175||49.43||9/ 7|
|Javed Miandad||25||1797||47.28||6/ 7|
|John Edrich||19||1554||47.09||3/ 8|
|David Gower||42||3269||44.78||9/ 12|
|Viv Richards||34||2266||44.43||5/ 14|
|Rahul Dravid||26||1857||43.18||2/ 11|
Batting within a couple of spots of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly meant Laxman had plenty of opportunities to bat with them. Among the three, Dravid was the one with whom he forged the biggest partnerships: in 66 innings, the two put together 11 century stands, with two match-winning triple-century efforts in Kolkata and Adelaide against the Australians. They also added 175 in Sydney earlier this year - their average against Australia in 22 innings is 66.38. They are one of only nine pairs to score more than 1000 runs against Australia, and in terms of averages only Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe, the legendary openers from England, have done better among those nine pairs.
|Partner||Innings||Runs||Average stand||100s/ 50s stands|
|Rahul Dravid||66||3319||55.31||11/ 9|
|Sachin Tendulkar||43||2145||52.31||5/ 11|
|Sourav Ganguly||41||1681||43.10||5/ 7|
Of the 66 innings that Laxman has batted with Dravid, a third have been for the fifth wicket, where they average 66.45. The 1329 runs they have put together is the third-highest among all fifth-wicket pairs, and just 320 runs off the record, which is currently held by Ricky Ponting and Steve Waugh. If Dravid comes out of his current rut, the two might yet have the opportunity to get another big stand going, and break that record. Almost five years back, Laxman had celebrated his 50th Test with a gem against Australia. Can he do an encore in his 100th?
|Pair||Innings||Runs||Average stand||100s/ 50s stands|
|Ponting-Steve Waugh||23||1649||74.95||6/ 5|
|Border-Steve Waugh||23||1384||65.90||3/ 5|
A look back at five high-profile exhibition matches