October 10, 2010

The magic of VVS

Laxman has hand-eye coordination that is the envy of surgeons, a competitive drive that his opposition dreads, and the kind of nous good captains need

The computer had India ranked No. 1 and Australia at 4. The cricket told a different story. India were making mental mistakes, dropping catches and generally fielding poorly, while the Australians combined aggressive running between the wickets with gritty batting and bowling. Then something strange happened.

Well, maybe not that unusual. The sight of a baggy green cap in the foreground and victory off in the distance has an energising affect on VVS Laxman. On those occasions he adds an extra V to his name and becomes Very, Very, Very Special.

Laxman marched out to bat like a straight-backed drill sergeant, but his ailing back didn't stop him putting a bayonet through Australia's victory charge. There was nothing wrong with his eyesight. He had visions of Kolkata and Chennai in 2001, only this time he was eyeing a different style of finish.

India won those two excruciatingly tense matches in 2001, but Laxman wasn't able to celebrate victory with a bat-waving ceremony. In Kolkata it was the bowlers who finished what he'd started, and in Chennai he was robbed of the moment of glory by a brilliant diving catch from the man in the Australian side who most emulated his style - Mark Waugh.

In Mohali, Laxman appeared to be playing in a mid-week industrial league match. Even the irritating back injury wasn't really a concern; he'd already dealt with a similar problem in Sri Lanka, where he had clinched victory with a glorious century. That was one thing he had going for him: he already knew what his limitations were with the back problem and had a fair idea how they could be overcome. That's the most difficult thing for a batsman with an injury. He has to work out what's possible and what isn't. Often the player is back in the pavilion before he's solved the riddle.

Laxman had one other crucial thing going for him in Mohali: his extraordinary hand-eye coordination. If he'd been lost to cricket and become a doctor, as so nearly happened, he'd have been a brilliant surgeon. His ability to middle the ball 99 times out of a hundred stood him in good stead, as he was unable to shift his feet very far. It's an amazing stroke of fate that India has two of the most gifted hand-eye players in one team, with Virender Sehwag another similarly talented player.

Laxman has always been tactically aware; he would have been India's best choice as captain following Sourav Ganguly's successful reign

Utilising his gift to the full, Laxman immediately began scoring at a good rate. This was crucial in the situation because it not only dramatically reduced India's daunting target, it also put the Australian bowlers on the defensive. Where every other Indian batsman had to contend with balls pitched on an awkward length, especially from the tireless Ben Hilfenhaus, Laxman avoided these dangerous deliveries by going on the attack. Hilfenhaus was wary of over-pitching to Laxman because when he did, the ball disappeared through cover or point to the boundary.

It's incredible to think that in his early days this remarkable strokeplayer would often ask, "Have you seen anything wrong with my batting?"

There was no lack of confidence through the whole ordeal in Mohali. Laxman was unflappable until victory beckoned. Then even he became animated and remonstrated with his partners for not completing a crucial run as the deficit dwindled to single figures. This rare display of passion served to reveal the depth of his intense competitive drive.

Laxman's contribution to India's breathtaking victory went way beyond the runs he scored. His decision early on to put his faith in Ishant Sharma's batting ability played a big part in the gangling quickie's vital role in their match-winning partnership. Laxman has always been tactically aware; he would have been India's best choice as captain following Sourav Ganguly's successful reign. He will never captain the team but he'll forever be remembered as India's most prolific match-winning batsman.

After the victory India remained No. 1 and Australia at 4, as recorded by the computer. However, computers only tell you about history; they have no concept of heart. They count Tests but don't account for temperament. You have to see VVS Laxman bat to understand his magic.

Former Australia captain Ian Chappell is now a cricket commentator and columnist

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Saurabh on October 13, 2010, 19:08 GMT

    TimmyF_23 comments are typical comments usually coming from Aussies or English ppl. He says that " Watch how the so called 'number one' side in the world crumble away from home when they are playing on pitches in South Africa and England that actually offer something to the bowler"..........Infact in this series we have seen Aussies batting crubmling to classical reverse swing of Zaheer and spin of Ohja and Bhajji.......If the pitches are flat and Indian batsman are flat pitch bullies then what happened to Aussie batsmen? They had advantage of batting first in both the matches however Clarke, Hussey, Katich failed......If Indian team struggles in Australia and England then the Aussies and English teams struggle in India and Sri Lanka....so how are these 2 teams different then Indian team when playing away from home? I think India are much more mentally stronger and Aussies are much less intimidating then what they were few years back

  • Dummy4 on October 13, 2010, 17:15 GMT

    We need to understand the situation currently existing in World Cricket is better than that was before when West Indies and Australia were dominating. During that time we have only one team clearly the No. 1 and other teams were not able to match them in all the departments. But currently we have 3 to 5 teams competing with equal strengths which makes the contest interesting. And also on the current position with the cricket rankings, I think as of now India is the current best team around and they e No. 1, but with the number of test series that will be played soon like Ind Vs SA and Ind Vs Eng and Ind Vs Aus in Australia later, India needs to win these contests to be clear favourites as no.1. But as of now we cant predict any top 5 teams having clear advantage over others, that makes the game interesting, we will have more even contests.

  • tiger on October 13, 2010, 15:42 GMT

    Listen to Ian's words of wisdom. Ian, can you just get lost? You always come up with nonsensical theories! If you cannot digest the fact that AU is #5 and IN is #1, just quit cricket. For once have you appreciate IN for its achievements? Grow up, kid!

  • Tim on October 13, 2010, 12:56 GMT

    Absolutely agree with the final statement. That "by the computer" India are number one. Only on points recieved for victories (how many matches do India play against poor opposition in comparison to AUS, ENG and Sth AFR-adding on points on the computer system). Watch how the so called 'number one' side in the world crumble away from home when they are playing on pitches in South Africa and England that actually offer something to the bowler. It will be a joke and India will be thrashed, mark my words! India's flat track bullies transform into tailenders as soon as the pitch begins to do anything.

  • Dummy4 on October 13, 2010, 1:45 GMT

    When Australia were number 1 - They are just No 1 and the computer did not select them, but when India are number 1 - "The computer selected India as No 1".. - Chappell.. however cynical you try to be, you cannot deny the fact that India is No 1 and beat australia fair and square. You are showing that Australia are bad losers and have this fake superiority attitude.. Grow up Chappell...

  • Arunabha on October 12, 2010, 11:39 GMT

    Why get drawn into all these Dravid vs Laxman, Laxman vs Tendulkar and Tendulkar vs Dravid debates. The three are great players in their own right and have chaperoned Indian batting for a decade or two ... Each one has rendered yeoman's service to the nation. We must accept all the heroes for what they have achieved, and that together amounts to putting India on number 1 of the test playing nations. http://senantixtwentytwoyards.blogspot.com/2010/10/nation-walks-with-sachin.html and http://senantixtwentytwoyards.blogspot.com/2010/10/pull-of-laxman.html showcase two complementary faces of the same coin that is great middle order of India.

  • Jay on October 12, 2010, 6:45 GMT

    Continued. Not that it matters to the Master. After all, he's been in the game for 21 years. He simply lets his bat do the talking. Whether it's Tests, ODIs or even T20, he's just been awesome, getting better and better with age: ICC Cricketer of the Year; 14,000 runs; 49th Test century (superb 214). Significantly, India is expected to win/draw the hotly-contested series with a formidable Australian side, which would validate its top Test ranking. Yet Ian continues to be in denial. Well then, let's issue him a challenge: Ask him to look into the "honest mirror" just like he had once asked of Sachin. And what will he see? A pretty face? Or one covered with egg? Or perhaps he can learn from the Sarah Murdoch episode: Horrified by her TV gaffe, she interrupted the celebration, promptly apologized and awarded the prize to the rightful winner. A face-saving act. Can we expect Chappell to do the same? Don't know. Wait and see what he writes in his next column.

  • Jay on October 12, 2010, 6:26 GMT

    Continued. It's just easier and saves Ian the pain of giving credit, however deserving the party. Case in point: India's #1 Test ranking. It did not happen overnight; it took a whole decade or more. As you well know, India's ascendancy was built on the backs of its cricketers: its elite veterans like Ganguly, Tendulkar, Dravid, Kumble & Laxman; and by younger stars like Sehwag, Dhoni, Zaheer, Harbhajan & Co. Importantly, they were guided by two of the best coaches in the business: John Wright initially and now Gary Kirsten. Ironically, this trajectory to the top took off not long after Ian's infamous beauty contest and, coincidentally, his brother Greg's dismissal as India's coach. Team India has marched on. Yes, Ian has sung the praises selectively of Indian cricketers -- Sehwag the Destroyer; VVS the Magician. Yet one can't help but notice the "default' button on Tendulkar, whom cricket-lovers the world over consider to be the best and most respected cricketer of the modern era. TBC

  • Jay on October 12, 2010, 6:15 GMT

    What do Sarah Murdoch and Ian Chappell have in common? Both blew it big time. Murdoch mistakenly announced the wrong winner while hosting "Australia's Next Top Model" TV show last month. Likewise, Chappell a few years ago foolishly asked Sachin Tendulkar to retire from cricket in his silly "Mirror, mirror on the wall" beauty contest. As the sole self-proclaimed judge/jury/expert, he declared Brian Lara the "best batsman of all." Again last year Chappell prematurely anointed JP Duminy as the Next Big Thing. No offense to JP, but Ian should know better: It takes a batsman much longer than a season or two, maybe a decade, to prove himself to be even worthy of comparison to a Ponting or a Lara or a Tendulkar. Sorry, Chappell is losing his credibility: His columns are disingenuous at best, and egotistic at worst. And what's so obvious lately is his propensity to choose a convenient "default" position, characterized by his "Computers-are-unreliable / Trust-me / I-know-it-all" attitude. TBC

  • Dummy4 on October 12, 2010, 4:12 GMT

    All is well that ends well.... If India had lost they would criticise Laxman not to take strike more often and gave it to Ishant and bad back was a problem and it was difficult for Laxman to play till the end... so and so. But now as India has won everyone is praising Laxman so as Ian

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