There was once a man who said "cricket's a funny game." If indeed that is true, and a truer statement you cannot hope to hear, then VVS Laxman was the master comedian at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on the fourth day of the second Test. Making a chanceless unbeaten 275, Laxman put smiles on the faces of thousands of spectators. Rahul Dravid, whose image took a bit of a beating in the press recently, emerged as a potent force making an unbeaten 155. No wickets were lost on the day, 335 runs were scored, not a single catch given and nine bowlers were used. Tell Steve Waugh that cricket is a funny game. One is sure he won't see the humour in the situation.
To fully appreciate the magnitude of the day's proceedings, one would have to be one of 50,000 odd people crammed into the stands at the Eden Gardens. But that is not a privilege everyone was blessed with. A look at the records that fell will tell a story of it's own. Laxman's 275 not out is the highest ever score by an Indian in the history of Test cricket. When he surpassed Sunil Gavaskar's mark of 236, which the little master made against the fearsome West Indies at Chennai more than 17 years ago, there was a colossal roar in the stands. In the press box however, there was a hush in some sections, as many old timers were visibly saddened by the fact that Gavaskar's record had fallen.
The partnership between Dravid and Laxman, an unbeaten 357 thus far, easily bettered the highest partnership for India for the fifth wicket. The previous best for the same wicket was 214, between Mohammed Azharuddin and Ravi Shastri against England in 1984-85. The partnership is also the highest for any wicket by an Indian pair against Australia, beating the 298 (unbroken) for the sixth wicket that Dilip Vengsarkar and Ravi Shastri put together in the 1986-87 series. Laxman's score is also the highest score by any batsman at the Eden Gardens, surpassing the 256 made by the great Rohan Kanhai in the 1958-59 series.
That is a lot of records to tumble in one day. And to be sure, this is not the end of it. Tomorrow, when Laxman (275 not out, 438 balls, 44 fours) and Dravid (155 not out, 318 balls, 18 fours) come back, more records will fall. John Edrich's record of 52 boundaries in his innings of 310 against New Zealand in 1965 is under severe threat. But enough said about statistics.
Today was one of those days when every pressman in the Eden Gardens felt like abandoning his seat and rushing out to the join the chanting, hooting, yelling crowds. With Tendulkar gone, it was time for some of the other batsmen in the Indian team to stand up and be counted. The manner in which Laxman and Dravid destroyed the high of the 16 win on the trot Australians was a sight to be seen. The Eden Gardens as a venue lends itself supremely well to the big occasion. The atmosphere is that of a bull ring rather than a quiet cricket ground. There's no Long Room, there are no WG Grace Gates and there is no Father Time on the weather vane looking down at a match in progress. This is as different from Lord's as you can possibly get. And yet, the place inspires a sense of history and draws on a great well of human emotions. Steve Waugh was the first to acknowledge that when he made his century. Dravid today let go a great deal more on reaching his hundred than he normally does. If waving the bat at the dressing room and crowds was not enough, the Karnataka batsman specifically gestured to the press box. The young man was obviously upset by something written earlier. Today, he let his bat do the talking.
Spearheaded by Laxman, India have made one of the most dramatic recoveries in Test cricket. From being down and nearly out, India are now 589/4, leading by 315 with one day's play left. With the pitch playing more true than Robin Hood's straightest arrow, India will be guarded against making a premature declaration. While Laxman marches towards becoming the first Indian to see 300 against his name in a Test scorecard, Dravid will be asked to accelerate the scoring first thing in the morning. Perhaps in the middle of the first session, the Indian captain might decide to let his bowlers have a go at the Aussies. When he does so, anything can happen.
However, Laxman will sleep soundly today, in the knowledge that he has made the number three slot his own for some time to come. What will inspire the soundest sleep however, is the fact that Laxman has, in one stroke, singlehandedly revived India's sagging fortunes and gone a long way in ending Australia's long run of victories.