South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban, 3rd day December 28, 2010

VVS Laxman does it once again

It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that, under pressure, VVS Laxman is one of the best in the world in this era

For a man who makes the team feel it is in safe hands more often than anybody else, VVS Laxman attracts too many doubters. Even after his three second-innings specials in successive Tests this year, there were a few left to be won over. Especially after his failure in the first Test. It was said that all his celebrated efforts earlier this year - the hundred in the chase at P Sara Oval, the Mohali magic, the match-saving innings from 15 for 5 in Ahmedabad - came on low and slow tracks against bowling that wasn't exactly extraordinary. It was said that, while he was mentally good under pressure, his technique wasn't actually tested. And that his body was giving in.

If after this 96 - the second-best score so far in this Test is 38, also by him - anybody has doubts as to who India's best batsman in crisis and on testing pitches is, we and that person are not watching the same game. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to say that, under pressure, he is one of the best in the world in this era.

Before this innings, those doubts were perhaps fair. For Laxman had last played a Test outside the subcontinent in New Zealand in 2008-09. Never mind the second-innings century there to help save the Napier Test, for New Zealand didn't exactly have Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel at the throats of the batsmen on a pitch like the one at Kingsmead. If the New Zealand tour is to not be counted, he last played outside the subcontinent in 2007-08, in Australia. With nearly three years gone by, and with the back trouble having made a grand comeback over the last year, would he be the same crisis manager against the deadliest fast bowler in the world and his deputy, on tracks with ample bounce and seam?

And then came two failures in the first Test, innings in which Laxman looked comfortable before getting out. Not for the first time, and not for the last, he was doubted. His reply was typical, the only one he knows. In the most testing conditions on this tour so far - the ball didn't seam as much on the first day in Centurion, and it has not been as overcast on the second and third days in Durban - he scored a priceless 38 to take India past 200 in the first innings.

That innings was ended by a stunning catch by Lonwabo Tsotsobe. Despite a good bowling effort, India found themselves in trouble in the second innings, with four wickets gone for 56. This was home territory for Laxman. All boxes that bring the best out of Laxman were checked: the top batsmen were gone, there weren't many on the board, a failure then could lose India the series, and most importantly batting here was not easy.

It took you back to his debut Test, on a cracking pitch, against the same opponents. India then were effectively 70 for 5 in the second innings when the legend started: out came a fifty (with Laxman it is rarely headline-hogging hundreds) and partnerships worth 32 and 56 with Sunil Joshi and Anil Kumble. Javagal Srinath got enough to defend, and ran through South Africa.

If this was a test of technique, Laxman passed it in flying colours. Of all the batsmen on this pitch, he showed the best knowledge of the whereabouts of his off stump. He left alone 63 off the 171 balls he faced, still managing a strike-rate of 56.14. There might have been some luck involved - a leading edge cleared the slips, an inside edge went past the keeper, a couple of outside edges fell short - but it couldn't have happened to a more deserving batsman on this pitch.

"Patience is very important," he said. "If you can get through some difficult times, then you get value for your shots. That's what I learnt in the first innings also, that if you can get through the tough periods, when the bowlers are charged up, you will definitely get balls to score off. Patience is a crucial factor on such wickets."

And then there was the 70-run partnership with Zaheer Khan, his third partner-in-crime from the lower order, this year alone. You would have thought that by now teams would have sorted Laxman's tricks with the lower order out. After all he is not a powerful hitter, he can be easily pinned down to one end with spread fields. His body doesn't even allow him to convert those one-and-halves into twos to manoeuvre strike. Leave alone the doubters, it actually surprises the believers too. When he came for the press conference, the first question was, "Again? How?"

Typically Laxman just praised Zaheer Khan and Cheteshwar Pujara for hanging around with him, not a word about his own innings, only about partnerships. On the surface, Laxman didn't answer the actual question. If you go deeper, he did. He makes the other batsmen feel good, comfortable and calm. Not just the man who is batting with him, but also the ones waiting their turn in the dressing room. When Zaheer Khan came out today and played a few rash shots early on in his innings, Laxman didn't come charging at him with instructions. He understands that tailenders don't fancy hanging in for long against bouncers on a spicy pitch.

Nor do the in-and-out fields fluster Laxman. He still has the gift of placement to keep finding the boundary. Today, after the punches and even an upper-cut, he also pulled out the paddle-sweep, a shot he doesn't often play. There was the disappointment of missing the century, for he doesn't have one in this country at all. That he looked a bit hurried in trying to get to that mark, with No. 11 for company, showed he is human too. However, if this innings results in a series-levelling win, the half-century won't be forgotten as easily as many of his other similar efforts with the tail have been.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Cricket on January 2, 2011, 19:18 GMT

    A fantastic article indeed, celebrating India's win and a player's contributions even when a century is not involved. For too long there has been this irrational obsession with centuries even though the number 100 is purely arbitrary like any other number like 90 or 75. Why not count the number of 90s instead of centuries?

    For too often many cricket fans obsessed on and celebrated individual records and not team wins. For a team to win (or draw) someone has to score big. On a good pitch that means a big century or double century and not just a small century. On a bowler's pitch that means you score more than anyone on the opposition side. That is precisely what Laxman did in Durban. He was the highest scorer of the two teams in the first innings and scored twice the next highest score in the second. That kind of performance wins matches.

    So his missing his century meant nothing to team India even though his individual record of centuries looks weak.

  • raj on January 1, 2011, 7:24 GMT

    To all VVS supporters (I am one too), yes, VVS is a great batsman and that is why he is in the Indian team. He did play a great innings in the last test...and so he should since that is what he is in the team for. Same with all other Indian batsman. Let's not forget, VVS scored 7 & 8 in the first and second innings of the first test, respectively!!! India subsequently lost that test. Every century is important and plays a role in the sides performance. It does not matter whether it is scored at the front end of the match or the back end of the match, winning, drawing or losing cause!

  • Shriram on December 31, 2010, 18:24 GMT

    it is always criticise about others but it is always difficult to do the things done by them as the case of very very special laxman indian will always criticise hime but no one can replace him because no one else can do what he has dene becoz he is vvs laxman Ie very very special laxman

  • Anupam on December 30, 2010, 14:58 GMT

    Sachin is like USA,it already achieved a lot, expectations are high and growth rates are low. Laxman is like China, overpopulated ( back problem) commie( lack of aggression ODI T20 style) country achieving all that is heart warming. So people tend to support him more.

  • johnny on December 30, 2010, 14:38 GMT

    @ tushvis on (December 29 2010, 15:58 PM GMT) - very well said, brother...very well said. India has just had a great win and instead of unconditionally praising the team, the writer is setting off two Indian greats (VVS and SRT) in order to get more responses to his article! Shame on Sid - this sort of guy would sell his own mother for a dollar and shame on all the so called 'Team India fans' (they are dumb enough to buy Sid's mother for a dollar) who have bought into the writers trickery and criticised SRT.

  • Kinshuk on December 30, 2010, 14:24 GMT

    and for all those requesting that sachin's name shouldn't be dragged in here..... the only reason that happens is b'coz some of us get really irritated at the excess adulation showered on him.... any self-respecting "indian" fan would have felt let down after the loss in the previous test match....

    but so many idiots were busy celebrating sachin's 50 centuries as if the team result was immaterial......

    the funny thing is that probably sachin himself would have been feeling miserable having been at the wrong side of yet another thumping from south africa....

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2010, 10:41 GMT

    I'm Jealous about Sachin and others for they got the best seat in the ground as a non stricker to watch the GOD LAXMAN bhai batting..........! Never seen such a player rewarded this poorly at all.......! I feel pity for the way Laxman is treated in this country........! My love and care towards this legend goes on forever..............!

    VERY VERY SORRY LAXMAN BHAI...................!

  • Rajesh on December 30, 2010, 3:54 GMT

    @Kashi- Man I feel that you are an intelligent Idiot to hate SRT so much.SRT does not require advice from you as to how to play which ball. Day in and day out we see the most mature of people get conned by fraudsters. When this can happen to all of us, why not the GOD of cricket play shots which he otherwise would not have played. He is not a Robot. He is after all human and he has to show his human qualities once a while. So dont critizise him to praise VVS. Even when Sachin gets to 100 International Hundreds you guys will say that its natural that for somebody to play for 21 years to get to that.Ask Chetan Chauhan how easy it is to get an Test Century!!!!! Sad that you will not have the brains to fathom what is being achieved.

  • deep on December 30, 2010, 1:48 GMT

    What VVS was doing when India lost the first test...Why cant he score a hundred then and convert the innnings deficit into lead. Every one gets opportunity to score and at times leads to win and @ times it does not. If any of you had attained the same feet , same popularity , same talent , same accolades as sachin does ...I am sure your feet and head would not be on the ground. An example is Yuvraj. Learn it folks.

  • Dummy4 on December 30, 2010, 0:49 GMT

    @dhurandhar007:sachin is regarded as god coz wen he is batting well usually there is no crisis.its wen he goes out cheaply tht india seems to be in crisis.i understand ppl might not be a fan of sachin but u dnt have to bash him for things not under his control..if vvs is such a matchwinner give me one instance where he has won the match single handedly..against australia u forget others helped him.similarly harbhajan helped him n this time tailenders helped many matchwinning innings has vvs played.tell me 5 at the most 6?so how come he is a bigger matchwinner than sachin.he might be a better finisher but sachin has won matches without breaking sweat n there lies the genious of sachin.wen he is on song he makes winning looks easy.even lara had around just 9 centuries in winning causes.does tht make him bad too.before 2010 sachin had 15 centuries in matches india won.9 in which india lost and 17 in which ind drew without taking 2010.rem hw sach made winng agnst aus luk so easy

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