India v South Africa, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 3rd day February 16, 2010

A perfect fit at No. 5

N Hunter
VVS Laxman's style of forcing the opposition to retreat is perhaps not as in your face as MS Dhoni's, but it's as effective

MS Dhoni is right. No. 5 is the perfect position for VVS Laxman. It's where India need his abundant experience, a position that links the top order to the inexperienced middle and lower ranks. It's a position of responsibility, meant for a secure man like Laxman, who has worked hard to come to terms with his role in the team.

As soon as Laxman was declared fit for the second Test, the question was where to fit him in the batting order? His desire to bat at one drop is well known. That, coupled with his aggressive batting, which has dominated even the best Australian attacks, may have been reason enough to slot Laxman at No. 3 in Rahul Dravid's absence, especially if one of the openers fell early. But India needed an experienced hand, along with MS Dhoni, in the middle order. And so Laxman stayed at No. 5.

The series and the No. 1 ranking were at stake when Laxman walked on to Eden Gardens on Monday evening. He survived that testing period, another one on Tuesday morning and finished unbeaten with a fabulous century, his fourth at his favourite venue. Laxman became the first batsman to pass 1000 runs at Eden Gardens, and only the second Indian after Sunil Gavaskar to do so at any venue.

Artists rarely stray away from their strengths; they only improvise with a subtlety that can be missed in a blink. South Africa were caught unawares as Laxman, in the company of Dhoni, took the game away from them with the smile never leaving his face.

South Africa had regretted not sticking to their plans on the second day but at Eden Gardens, Laxman's home away from home, he knows his scoring areas so accurately that no bowler surprised him. He did fend some short deliveries in clumsy fashion and was beaten by furious outswingers from Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. But that embarrassed smile was only an act, which masks the inner steel that Laxman seldom expresses.

Two balls before the second drinks break, JP Duminy bowled an innocuous short ball outside off stump. Laxman raised his bat high, suggesting he might cut the ball hard. Instead, he merely guided it to the fielder at point. His decision not to take advantage of such a loose ball even astonished AB de Villiers behind the stumps and both men exchanged smiles. The next ball, a wee bit fuller, was converted into a full toss as Laxman planted his left foot forward, lunged and caressed it between cover and mid off for four.

It needs a special gift to play the strokes Laxman does. He can dazzle with an array of them but his art is rooted in simplicity. Laxman had scored at least a half-century in his last seven Tests in Kolkata. He had not scored a century since his support act to Gautam Gambhir's match-saving century in Napier. The expectations of Laxman are heavy due to the success of other batsmen higher in the order.

When Laxman arrives at the crease, he is required either to give finishing touches to a strong batting performance or form a rearguard with the tail. The first role has little glamour, the second is extremely demanding. And Laxman is one of the few who play only Test cricket so each match is a challenge for him.

That he has been successful in meeting these demands is down to, in his own words, his adeptness at playing the situation. The 2009 series against Sri Lanka is a good example: in Ahmedabad, India were battling to save the Test, so Laxman had to stay put - he made 51 off 160 balls. In Kanpur and Mumbai, where Virender Sehwag had led India to record first-innings scores, he needed to score quicker and made 63 and 62. "You have to just adapt to the situation, play according to the situation, and play the role that the team gives you," he had told Cricinfo's Opening Up recently.

Today, he said he could have converted some of those starts into bigger scores. "I was a little bit disappointed that I was not able to convert my 50s and 60s into hundreds but on the positive side I am able to consistently perform for the team," Laxman said.

He was able to adapt to today's situation easily because he was batting with Dhoni. Dhoni's unorthodox method of scoring is in contrast to Laxman's picturesque handiwork but they complemented each other, forcing Graeme Smith to set defensive and well spread fields. "You can see the body language of the bowlers whenever Dhoni gets in. They are very defensive when they bowl or the way they move," Laxman.

Laxman's style of forcing the opposition to retreat is perhaps not as in your face as Dhoni's, but it's as effective.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on February 20, 2010, 11:57 GMT

    I am really delighted to see an article with all praises to Laxman. Truely, the most under rated cricket cricketer in Indian Cricket yet again proved his caliber.Looking at stats some might think that there are not many centuries under his belt.But the position is very typical.In that position either Lax has to play with tailenders to save India or by the time he reaches 50/60 odd score its time to declare the innings.A perfect team man, a first class artist.His bat is more talkative than him.He deserves a place in ODIs as well as hard hitting will not always be useful and some one who stands firm are still needed in any form of the game. It is unfortunate that he is still not being considered for PADMA awards.

    I love you VVS.

  • Dummy4 on February 17, 2010, 6:52 GMT

    a perfect batsman at no.5/6. laxman lost oppurtunity of scoring few more centuries due to the fragile indian tail, but thats laxman... never complaining and always upto the task with a smile on his face. brillaint slip fielder , close to dravid both in terms of elegance in batting and safe pair of hands on the field... kudos Laxman. India is proud to have u...

  • Jason on February 17, 2010, 6:28 GMT

    VVS Laxman is the ideal number 3 batsman, even with Dravid in the side, and I believe that India has cost themselves better results by not playing him in this position. The batsman who comes in at 3 can set the tempo of the game, whilst coming in at 6 (which Laxman has for a lot of his career) it has generally already been set. Living in Australia I have been privileged enough to see the best of Laxman, and his ability to get stuck in & survive when the going's tough as well as to dominate when the time is right means that India has wasted the opportunity to achieve more success by not having him at 3. Dravid has played some great innings, but too often he causes India to get bogged down (especially if Sehwag gets out early) and although he can be difficult to dismiss, the opposition is never worried that he will take the game away from them. Laxman, however, has an ability to dictate terms that Dravid simply doesn't have, and most certainly can take the game away from the opposition.

  • sree on February 17, 2010, 6:01 GMT

    Very Very Special..isn't he? He is no doubt one of those indespensable 5 fingers of a hand. If Dravid and Sachin are Gods at 3 and 4, so is VVS at No.5. Yes, the amount of time he spends at the crease should definitely have promoted him to N0.3 position. He is probably the only batsman to keep eveybody in the field enticed and hooked when he plays a stroke. There is a good reason for this. It goes: As he is not aggressive, the bowler anticipates he is nervouos and bowls full and straight on off stump..VVS gently times the ball..the fielders2 of them run behind the men chase the ball too..umpire watches tirelessly to see whether it corsses the ropes...and boy it does! So sweet is his timing that everybody in the game is involved when he plays, in contrast to a crashing hit to fence which seems so routine. In Laxman's case both the journey and destination of a storke are beautiful. That he can place same ball in 4 different positions goes on to say about VVS's artistry.

  • Rydham on February 17, 2010, 5:53 GMT

    Lax has proved his ability and now he is on such a stage from where he can only climb and not slip. He deserves the place in all time India XI of test matches. My feeling is that he should be considered even for one day games where we are lacking in middle order. Considering his age he will be able to serve India further 3 years so he should be used in ODI, too just like Thilan Samaraveera of SL. See how Thilan is useful to SL at No.5 in ODIs. Youngsters can be there in ODIs but No. 4 or 5 in ODIs also should be given to Lax. Youngsters can wait for another 3 years just as Yuvraj waited to enter in test squad in place of Sourav Ganguly !!

  • Dummy4 on February 17, 2010, 5:09 GMT

    v.v.s.laxman knocks is very special. india took its opportunity .South Africa lost the momentum on 1st day 3rd session.1st test loss was a set back but skill are not lost in a single match.the loss of 7 wickets on 3rd session of 1st day was the turning point of the match.Zaheer has spearheaded the bowling attack well.lakshman and harbhajan always give the star performance at Eden.Nice to see full match on Eden after the flood light problem in previous game.Sehwag set the game for India from batting side .He checked his shots in order to last the game till end. It is a nice change and hope he will entertain the public more instead of gifting his wicket after setting the tempo.

  • Dummy4 on February 17, 2010, 4:56 GMT

    Laxman is a great in modern day cricket even if his persona and attitude reflect the old world charm one knew in the cricket of old. His game too is as identifiable as they say the leg glance was the Ranji initial. Whether it is one year or three that he lasts at the highest level let us just savour every moment. Artists like him never happen every day.Orelse art will be commomplace.

  • JAYESH on February 17, 2010, 4:46 GMT

    Day before yesterday on Neo cricket, there was an interview of Laxman, when he was asked who did he think was the best batsman in the team, his answer was : Sachin & Sehwag. To categorize Sehwag along with Sachin says a lot about the man's ability. The SA came to India with preparations for Sehwag & how has he responded, the 2nd highest run getter until now with 2 booming centuries, opening the batting, taking the opposition head-on, scoring fast, dominating bowlers, scoring boundaries at will as well as rotating strike, least bothered about personal records and scoring consistently. The man is great & only another great can recognise a great

  • Thomas on February 17, 2010, 4:33 GMT

    Laxman is best at number 3, even if Rahul Dravid is playing. I thought that it was injustice not to play Dinesh Karthik instead of Murali Vijay. Dinesh Karthik being a wicket keeper should not be held against his status as a batsman. He is a fantastic bastman, and should have been given the opportunity to prove his mettle as a batsman against a very good pace attack.

  • Dummy4 on February 17, 2010, 4:15 GMT

    It was a very special Knock from Lax, He and Sachin ensured that this match will be won, the other two guys (Viru and Mahi) actually flurished by the mere presence of these two on the other side. We still do not have replacement for Rahul, we have no sight of another Sachin, and there is only one Lax... so when these guys retire.. man we are looking at a gapping hole that will take some beating to be plugged. Ganguly is not missed today because Mahi has gott he covered by himself. These three anyway have another three years at least with them... by then the youngsters should grow up and get into their shoes.

    If Dravid is an Icon of Maturity and Gentlemanship, Sachin is Genius and Laxis the best artist with a bat and on his day, the rest look too small.

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