Sri Lanka v India, 3rd Test, P Sara Oval, 5th day

Calm Laxman defies spasms and past demons

A testing fifth-day pitch, an accurate rookie spinner, an old foe in Ajantha Mendis and a troublesome back were all thrown at VVS Laxman. Yet, he found a way to sneak past them to see India home

Sidharth Monga at the P Sara Oval

August 7, 2010

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VVS Laxman and Virender Sehwag celebrate India's victory, Sri Lanka v India, 3rd Test, P Sara Oval, 5th day, August 7, 2010
Throughout those 47 overs while Laxman was around, the dressing room knew the chase was in safe hands © AFP
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Players/Officials: VVS Laxman | Ajantha Mendis
Series/Tournaments: India tour of Sri Lanka
Teams: India

They didn't scream madly as they do nowadays after winning a cricket match. They didn't run on to the field. They just walked out one by one, not a hint of surprise on their faces.

MS Dhoni walked out first, padded up and probably relieved he didn't have to bat. Then came the man who has perhaps enjoyed VVS Laxman's batting more than anyone else. Rahul Dravid couldn't stop smiling. He clapped all the way as he walked towards the middle where Laxman first shook hands with the umpire Simon Taufel and then walked towards Virender Sehwag, his runner, and Suresh Raina, his batting partner, both of whom hugged him. Then came Sachin Tendulkar, thankful that the job that he had started was finished. The slightest hint of incredulity came in the form of a mock-bow from M Vijay.

Laxman just smiled and thanked everyone, suggesting, as usual, that it was no big deal. That, though, is the effect his batting has on his team-mates. "Nothing calms you like Laxman," wrote Dravid when Laxman brought up a century of Test caps.

It was, in fact, a very big deal. While listening to Kishore Kumar in the dressing room, nursing the back spasms he had developed while fielding on the fourth day, he saw the nightwatchman Ishant Sharma get out, reducing India to 62 for 4, chasing 257 on a testing fifth-day pitch. Laxman knew he hadn't scored a century in Sri Lanka, or scored more than 74 in the fourth innings of a Test match. He knew of India's miserable record batting fourth. This before going out for perhaps his last innings in the country.

Soon, he saw Tendulkar play a nervous defensive shot to the on side, with four men ready to pounce on it. Tillakaratne Dilshan dropped one of the easier offerings any forward short leg could expect. Both the batsmen then took charge.

Suraj Randiv was bowling the spell of his life. From round the stumps he got sharp bounce and turn. Leg gully, forward short leg, and short midwicket waited. If you went over them, there were three other fielders on the on-side boundary. Randiv was accurate, landing everything on an imaginary penny on the pitch. He gave almost nothing to cut, or wide enough to drive through the off side. The plan was laid, the cover field was vacant. Laxman still kept flicking him through the on side. It was fascinating to watch, especially after Ishant had just flicked one straight to short midwicket.

All through his troublesome previous tour in 2008, Laxman kept doing the same to Ajantha Mendis, who was having the series of his life. Laxman didn't seem to pick the variations, but kept flicking, ending up with a better average than any of the middle-order batsmen. Still he kept finding ways to get out to Mendis, as he did it in the first innings here, making it seven dismissals to the bowler.

Laxman, though, trusted his wrists and kept playing the shot against Randiv, teasing the fielders, keeping it along the ground. When he hit uppishly, he missed the fielders. Despite that troublesome back, he still managed to bisect forward short leg and leg gully with the sweep. And he didn't abort the pull shot that consumed him in Galle.

A few scores were settled too. Off Mendis on a fifth-day pitch, he scored 39 runs off 44 balls. He might not still have read Mendis from the hand all the time, but any hint of a loose ball was punished. "I don't think I was struggling against him," he said of facing Mendis. "In all the innings I got out to him in different manner. It was not that I was getting out in the same fashion and [that he was] exposing my weak link. I didn't do anything different, I just played my natural game and to the merit of the ball."

Lasith Malinga, who had made Laxman look ungainly in Galle, went for 18 off 21. Two of Malinga's bouncers were pulled imperiously between fine leg and deep square leg, that too with a bad back.

As India started getting closer, the grit started giving way to grace. From jaw-clenching, the innings went to jaw-dropping. The wristy drive through extra cover, the flicks through the on side, and the leg glance took him closer to the hundred. In between, the odd ball jumped and there was the odd hiccup, like Tendulkar's departure immediately after he took a break to get treatment on his back.

"If you see, Sachin got out once I took the runner," Laxman said, as if blaming himself. "But I was in such pain that I thought the best decision in team's interest was to have a runner, instead of just giving away the wicket due to pain. Luckily, the partnership with Suresh Raina developed."

Laxman has his routines, like his shots, that he adamantly follows. At the end of every over, he taps his bat on the crease about a dozen times. Even when he had the runner, and finished the over at square leg, he would walk to the other crease and tap the bat in gently, holding it from the top of the handle. He did that 47 times today. Each time the bowler would start the over knowing his best chance of picking up a wicket was through the other batsman. And throughout those 47 overs, the dressing room knew the chase was in safe hands.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

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Posted by arun_cheers on (August 13, 2010, 9:32 GMT)

For the kind of ability and the impact that Laxman can have on test matches, (I consider Laxman to be the batsman next only to Sehwag to turn the match in favour of our team), I wonder why none of the captains are not promoting him to bat at number 3 or 4. I thought at least Dhoni might be sensible enough to take the initiative to get the best out of such a talented player. I can only wrap it up thus ... "Opportunity denied to Laxman is opportunity lost for the team's better fortunes" ! ... For who knows, had Laxman been made to bat permanently after the 281 episode, may be India would have won 10 more tests to its current tally of wins.

Posted by   on (August 10, 2010, 10:54 GMT)

@spiritwithin

thats because the had india had anil kumble .....in form batsmen like rahul dravid and ganguly and tendulkar ......while now these all players are on the edge of their careers ....ganguly gone ...kumble gone ....dravid is going to ......tendulkar may be aiming world cup for the retirement .......and now india left with raina who doesnt yet know to tackle the short balls .....sharma still in out of the team ....no real swingers in the team except zaheer ...who is fighting with his injuries ......and none of the bowlers can not really touch 90s mph mark .......so the weakened indian bowling line up can trouble the england batsman .....this is worth of laughing .....so india is only gud now on pitches where there batting is not exposed to depth .....otherwise india would had insisted to play out of sub-continent......

Posted by Pathiyal on (August 10, 2010, 5:34 GMT)

i understand that the whole team look upon him as the safest chaser. dont know why i was having a wrong impression so far :-)

Posted by plsn on (August 10, 2010, 4:09 GMT)

when I commented that Sehwag and Lax were the only 2 batsmen who could win matches for India in the article on Sehwag, I was not off the mark by much. Was I?

Posted by montys_muse on (August 10, 2010, 2:12 GMT)

Well, after watching Laxman's innings in the 3rd test, I would say that the first 2 lines in Cricinfo's profile about VVS is right on the money!

Posted by HarishAnantaneni on (August 10, 2010, 1:05 GMT)

@vinx_1980 Just to correct you... Sidharth is right.. VVS did not score more than 74 in a 4th innings of a test match. You were refferring to a 3rd innings.

@VVS You have been the hope of India, when ever the top order fails... and you did your job in a great spirit... Congrats and Thank you for making us Proud..

Posted by shakkya on (August 10, 2010, 0:11 GMT)

INDIA WASNT BETTER THAN SRI LANKA IN THE WHOLE SERIES

Posted by gestapo on (August 9, 2010, 23:36 GMT)

It was baffling to see Sangakkara say that SL is still the better team,,alright,agreed,,India was definitely the team with a depleted bowling attack,,but how can Sanga call his team better than the Indian team?Although India is the #1 team in rankings,we still dont have the bowling resources to boast of an unbeatable team barring Zaheer and Bhaj. Indians were known as poor travelers until Ganguly took over and one could see the results we achieved in the last decade with Test series victories in Eng,WI,NZ and the one and only team to challenge Oz even back in their own den and the only subcontinental team to do so,,,and the poor Lankans I bet will get a pasting once they r outta SL. India is a far better team than SL and now that the Lankans are without Murali,they will feel the difference,,SL are yet to beat India in India and challenge OZ.Set your house in order first and then talk.Bravo India.

Posted by Rajesh. on (August 9, 2010, 19:38 GMT)

Perhaps India's best ever crisis-man............................ No better sight on a cricket field than watching this dazzling performer !!

Posted by   on (August 9, 2010, 18:44 GMT)

A very well written article. VVS deserves a historian. On so many occasions he has been India's Horatio. This article eloquently describes his contribution.

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