South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban December 30, 2010

'Durban among toughest wickets I've played' - Laxman


VVS Laxman ranks Durban "up there" with the best wins of his career, especially because on the first day the batsmen had to counter "one of the most challenging wickets I have played on in my career".

"If you beat South Africa on definitely the quickest and bounciest wicket in the country, it gives you that much additional joy," Laxman said, a day after India finished the series-levelling 87-run win. "Everyone talks about Durban being the place where South Africa puts the opposition under pressure, even though the results haven't been going their way recently. It gives us a lot of satisfaction to have beaten them in these conditions."

Laxman said the conditions in Durban were the supreme test of India's batsmen's skill and temperament. "You have got a pace-bowling attack that is one of the best in the world at the moment. Then the conditions were ideal for them, where the ball was seaming, and there was bounce that we are not used to because most of the time we play on subcontinent wickets. Even abroad you don't usually get wickets that have such steep bounce. Test match cricket is all about challenging the skill you have got, and the temperament you have got. And this was one of the most challenging wickets I have played on in my career."

Until Ashwell Prince scored 39 in South Africa's second innings, the game's top two scores belonged to Laxman: 96 and 38. It took a stunning catch to stop him at 38 in the first innings. His patience, his skill, his technique stood apart from the 11 other specialist batsmen and two wicketkeeper-batsmen on show. And again, as has increasingly become Laxman's wont, he added runs with the tail.

"It boils down to the experience and the rapport I share with each one of them," he said of the secret behind his success with the lower order. "It is very important to give them confidence. Luckily, each one of them works on his batting, and they take a lot of pride in their batting and don't want to throw their wicket away. Because they're out there with a fighting spirit, and not to give their wicket away easily to the opposition, it helps me.

"We set ourselves small targets without looking at getting a 30-run or a 50-run partnership. We're just looking to have a five-run partnership or survive one over, and then take it five overs at a time or something like that. The most important thing is knowing what they are comfortable with and that's something I've learnt to do over the years. If I know that a batsman is not comfortable with a certain bowler then I don't give them strike. But if they're comfortable, then I definitely give them the strike because the scoreboard keeps moving and the pressure suddenly shifts from us to the opposition."

Laxman missed out on a century in Durban, which has often been the case with many a crucial knock of his, coming as they tend to do with the lower order for company. Here, too, he was the last man out, trying to get a boundary when the field came up for the last two deliveries of an over. Before that, though, he had played a paddle-sweep to get to the 90s, a shot he doesn't often play.

"That's something I got into my repertoire this year, especially after playing against Sri Lanka last year in India. There was a situation at CCI (the Brabourne Stadium, Mumbai) where they didn't have the square leg back because I don't play the sweep shot. I wasn't getting easy singles. That's when I started playing the sweep shot, and even in Sri Lanka this year I played it. I worked a lot on that shot in the nets, and I'm quite comfortable playing it."

What made the difference between Centurion and Durban was we were a lot more aggressive in the field and with the ball in Durban. Our body language was extremely aggressive

Laxman admitted he was disappointed about missing a century. "You're happy that you've been able to absorb the pressure and perform when it's required and play an important knock for the team, but from a personal milestone point of view you will be very disappointed. As I always feel, my conversion rate hasn't been great, with 49 fifties and 16 hundreds. From a personal point of view I would have been more happy to get centuries in these games, but from the team perspective I've done reasonably well to bail the team out of tough situations."

He might have missed the hundred, but he talked of something that meant more to him. "You always want to be remembered as somebody who contributed to winning matches for the country. The biggest recognition you can get is when your team-mates know that you are somebody who can go in during tough situations and bail the team out, or when the opposition feels that they cannot take it for granted that the match is over till you are out. It also gives you added responsibility that you have to go and do it whenever you play for the country."

Laxman said he doesn't quite know what it is that gets the best out of him in pressure situations. "If the situation is like the one it was in Durban, in both the innings, it gets the best out of me. I don't know the reason for it. Probably the zone I go into when we are faced with a tough challenge is much more consistent than the one I go in with for the first innings."

Laxman said the major difference between the Indian sides that took the field in Centurion and Durban was aggression, not the verbal kind but the intent. "Coming into this Test match we were upset firstly about what happened in Centurion and the preparations were good leading into the Test. The aggression was more than what it was in Centurion. As a fielding unit and a bowling unit, we were aggressive on the field. The turning point was the way our bowlers bowled on the second day because getting just 200 runs on the first-day wicket, even though it was a reasonable achievement by the team, it was still a situation where one partnership could take the game away from us. But our bowlers bowled with intent, the fielders backed them up with some extraordinary catches and the body language was extremely aggressive. I think that was the difference between Centurion and Durban"

One of the major factors in the revival was Zaheer Khan, and Laxman spoke of his value to the team. "He is one of the toughest bowlers to play. I would never like to face him in a match. In the nets he is always at you. The way he prepares, knowing what he is going to do in the upcoming Test, is unbelievable. He is a great role model for all the young fast bowlers.

"As a team-mate, his presence just lifts us because of the way he helps the other fast bowlers. It's not only that he comes and bowls his quota of overs and keeps quiet, but the way he guides an Ishant Sharma or a Sreesanth while they are bowling is unbelievable. He has been a true match-winner for us over the years. Not only where conditions help fast bowling, but also in the subcontinent."

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Wolver on January 6, 2011, 6:34 GMT

    Laxman made a big difference and rate him as the most dangerous of indian line up, but the ultimate difference was the poor umpiring which runed what was going to be a close game. Pitty UDRS was not used but then that would hurt India with umpires very reluctant to give out SRT and quite happy to give shockers to SA.

  • Shaheer on January 2, 2011, 20:40 GMT

    after a long time india plays on a good bowling wicket ohh them dead indian cricket wickets

  • rahul on January 1, 2011, 15:44 GMT

    @Des_65: That is why Laxman is a better player than SRT when it comes to bailing the team out of tough situation. If senior player like SRT cannot help his team mate to stick to the other end then what is the use of his experience. And on top of that he usually plays with the top order who are better batters than the lower order. Where as Laxman plays with the lower and still manages either to save a test or score a win from tough situations. If you observe closely, the tests in which India won when SRT played well, there are also other batsmen (top order) who have scored along with SRT. So SRT is no doubt a match winner but he needs support from the top order. Bowlers are supposed to support the batsmen to defend. Not only Laxman even SRT needs support from bowlers to defend a good total. Now you tell me who should be given more credit and who is playing for the team. I can confidently say that India will do fine without SRT but not without Laxman.

  • swaroop on January 1, 2011, 14:42 GMT

    @Ravi Sukhu:dont bash sachin.he is India's pride.many people say that in the first test he should have retained the strike.but if i am not wrong in mohali test vvs did the same when India require 80 odd runs to win.he gave strike to ishant.only after knowing that India came close to a win he kept the strike with him and that's the way it shoud be done.sachin did the same and unfortunately it didn't turn out as such.he coud not have scored runs had he kept the srike.he has to rotate it in order to avoid follow on.come on man it is bacuse of him and the bowlers we were in the 2003 wc finals and 1996 wc semis.I am not laxman hater as he is one key player for India.lets stop comparing our players.

  • Sulaiman on January 1, 2011, 12:19 GMT

    Why always peoples are very jelaous abt india's no.1 position...i really agree with monishjoshy comments....dears....india is eligble to be no.1 if you compare with any other teams form now...england is good test team....but they just started to win matches regularly....we r doing this since long time...thts why we r no.1....please don't be jealous....winning matches in sauth africa is not easy specillay conditions are favour to them...our win was not was great team effort...we proved we have also good pace attack....even if we lose next match....we r able to continue no.1 in the world....if we win at our home...all says home pitches....same for all other teams if sauth africa wins next match.....

  • Monish on January 1, 2011, 9:58 GMT

    Luck only happens once, but talent prevails always, I saw some South Africans commenting that India's win was by Luck and Sreesanth got wicket by Luck. Are they so foolish for not thinking that India is number1 team by winning more number of matches than all other teams against all other teams. Sreesanth was instrumental in India's win in Wanderers where he grabbed 8 wickets and 18 wickets in total in that test series, Also Sreesanth was instrumental in test wins in Australia, WI, Srilanka, England etc....He has the best strike rate of 28 runs per one wicket, how could he perform consistently for last 6 years , Luck happens only once but he made major contributions in most of the India's wins abroad, even in 1st 20-20 Semi-Finals against Australia in SA, simply don't bully him because you people are just jealous of India winning matches in your own back yard.

  • Rajesh on January 1, 2011, 8:26 GMT

    This guy is a class act........ he has always been !

  • Sridhar on January 1, 2011, 7:34 GMT

    VVS is a class act. He was the captain in waiting when during Sourav's tenure. Dono why they chose Rahul over VVS. This great batsman, a great team man and a thorough gentleman still does not get his due share of respects and attention. Indians sports commentators have also missed to acknowledge this person's greatness. So has the marketing agents - have we ever seen VVS in an ad? Parthiv Patel, Virat Kohli, Harbhajan, Yuvraj, Sree etc etc have value put on their names but not VVS. What a shame!!!! Rahul's absence can be filled in by someone like Pujara. SRT and VVS are irreplaceable.

  • Dummy4 on January 1, 2011, 6:55 GMT

    A look at the last two years test matches during which India achieved and retained the no.1 status shows that Veeru and Laxman are two players who have made the difference. Its easy to score centuries after someone like Veeru makes mincemeat of the bowlers. In a team game like cricket only the win matters. Individual achievements are of no use.

  • zain on January 1, 2011, 6:19 GMT

    Almost every series India starts poorly and then they come back to their own rythm. The arrival of Zaheer Khan made world of a difference. Laxman is exceptional and the reason is he is so wristy like Mohamed Azharuddin and he is quite unorthodox. He will hit the balls bowled in the off stump to the leg side and he plays lots of cross batted shot. He is really the key batsman to hold the edge and is a threat to the opponents. ASK AUSTRALIANS how to get LAXMAN out - they are still searching for the answer.

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