Business as usual for the crisis man
It's mesmerising to watch VVS Laxman bat in a crisis. He doesn't counterattack. He doesn't go into a shell. He bats normally. As if one can bat normally in crisis. Laxman does. He really does. That's his greatness. Laxman doesn't have the best leave in the business. He doesn't have the best defence in town. He doesn't have the best counter-attacking instinct in the game. Yet, he is the man for a crisis. It's his mind that sets him apart.
A glimpse at other great batsmen in crisis makes that contrast stark. You can feel the entire gravity of the situation when Steve Waugh and Rahul Dravid bat; they drag you with them into their fight.You can sense the effort Tendulkar puts in to show that there is no pressure out there and that he is in control. The signature self-nods increase, he tries to blank out the emotions from his face and you can feel him trying to be in total control. With Brian Lara you can see the imperious mind trying to dominate the situation. Dravid defends, Tendulkar tries to find a balance and Lara imposes himself. Laxman just bats.
Tuesday was no different. Some of his younger partners looked out of depth, a senior partner got out to a peach and Laxman just batted. It wasn't, as you would expect, without its little struggles. When Laxman is batting, his constant inner-struggle as a batsman is about leaning forward. He doesn't move his front foot much; with his eye-hand coordination and wristy skills, he doesn't have to. He just tries to lean his upper body forward. Occasionally, as in the first innings of the first Test, it doesn't work.
You can see the effort to lean forward in his stance with the shrug of that front shoulder, you can see it in his stretches between deliveries and you can see it in his occasional struggles. Fidel Edwards slung a few full deliveries. Laxman couldn't quite lean forward but adjusted his wrists to cover the line. A couple ran off the inside edge, a few rolled away to the off. Edwards stood down the track and stared down. Ravi Rampaul had his hands on his head at mid-off. It's the closest Laxman came today to offer any sort of hope to West Indies.
With Laxman, in these moments of discomfort, there were, as ever, no visible self-admonishments, no deliberate walks to square-leg, no return-stares at the bowlers and no verbals. Nothing. He just batted. The score could have been 150 for 2 for all you know. He stayed in his cocoon with his small routines. He constantly re-marked his guard with the bat, tugged his left hip with his left hand, touched his thigh pad, adjusted the peak of his helmet and made every effort to lean forward while in his stance. Every now and then, he kept stretching. Constantly, he went down the track to tap the pitch with his bat. Tap. Tap. Tap. Often, while at the non-striker's end, he stood in front of stumps and got into his batting stance and leaned forward. And then on to the next ball. Waft. Flick. Punch. Leave. Tap, tap, tap.
West Indies nearly gave up. The short balls came up more often and he dismissed nearly every one of them with his nonchalant pull. In many ways, it's a shot that reflects his calm mind. The wristy flicks showcase his artistry - there was one off Devendra Bishoo when he flicked from outside off, and against the turn, through midwicket. The on-the-up punch through off reflects his skill but it's the pull that tells us about his unruffled mind. He doesn't pull with a smashing authority like a Viv Richards or a Ricky Ponting. He is not trying to impose himself out there like them. 'Don't you dare bang it in short to me' is not his style. He just nonchalantly swivels back and wafts it from his presence. You want to bowl short to me? Really? Are you sure? Okay, here goes. Waft. Four. Tap, tap, tap.
As the day went by all his signature shots made an appearance. The flicked on-drive through mid-on off Rampaul, the casual glide off the hips off Darren Sammy, the delicate steer past gully against Edwards and of course those flicks against the turn to Bishoo. In the end, he fell, failing to keep a cut down, but he had lifted India out of shambles. Laxman doesn't snarl. He doesn't muscle. He doesn't impose. He doesn't hustle. Laxman just bats.
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at ESPNcricinfo