In terms of batting artistes, VVS Laxman ranks among the best of them. However, there was much more to him than elegance and beauty: he scored tough runs, in difficult conditions, in crucial match situations, against top-class bowling attacks. Being a contemporary of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid meant he was measured against extremely stiff standards, and in that comparison, he only fell short in terms of overall averages: Tendulkar currently averages 55.44, Dravid finished at 52.31, while Laxman missed that coveted 50-mark, ending on 45.97.
However, if you look beyond the overall numbers, the difference isn't as much. One of the major handicaps for Laxman was his poor start to Test cricket: in his first 16 Tests, he averaged 24.07, largely because the lack of openings in the middle order forced him to bat at the top, a position that was unfamiliar to him. Exclude those 16 Tests, and his averages shoots up to 49.42 in 118 matches. Then, there was the small matter of milking Zimbabwe and Bangladesh. Tendulkar and Dravid scored runs pretty much everywhere, but they also made use of the opportunities to score against weaker sides: Tendulkar averaged 96.55 against those two teams, and Dravid 85.50. They're also the only two Indian batsmen to score more than 1500 Test runs against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe; Laxman, on the other hand, scored 397 in 12 innings at 39.70. In 109 Tests against the top sides (excluding Bangladesh and Zimbabwe) since 2000, Laxman averaged 50.05; Dravid's career average against these top teams was 50.11, and Tendulkar's 52.61. Since 2000, Dravid's average against these eight top teams is 50.49, and Tendulkar's is 49.34. There's absolutely nothing to choose among these numbers.
However, Laxman took much longer to get going. His first Test century came in his 30th innings, a glorious 167 in Sydney in what was admittedly a lost cause, but that was the beginning of a new Laxman, a batsman who could hold his own in a heavyweight middle order. Four Tests after that Sydney hundred came that innings in Kolkata against Steve Waugh's Australia, which is part of every discussion on the greatest Test innings ever. The period between 2000 and the beginning of 2004 was among the best of his career: in 34 Tests, bookended by 150-plus scores in Sydney, he aggregated 2834 runs at 60.29. That was also the period when his conversion rate of fifties into hundreds was the best - seven out of 20.
After that, though, came a period of slump, when his average dropped to less than 34 over his next 30 Tests. In eleven series during that period, only three times did his average go past 40. He broke out of that slump soon after, though, and over a glorious 50-Test period between 2007 and 2011, averaged more than 55. In 15 series in which he played more than one Test, his average went beyond 45 ten times. Though he only scored seven hundreds during that period, he scripted some superb innings under pressure, including the unbeaten 103 against Sri Lanka and 73 not out against Australia - both in fourth innings, both in wins. His fourth-innings average during this period was 76.42, much higher than his career fourth-innings average of 40.55. (Click here for Laxman's career summary, and here for his series-wise averages.)
|Till Dec 1999||16||626||24.07||0/ 5|
|Jan 2000 to Jan 2004||34||2834||60.29||7/ 13|
|Feb 2004 to Jan 2007||30||1418||33.76||3/ 9|
|Feb 2007 to Nov 2011||50||3748||55.11||7/ 28|
|Dec 2011 onwards||4||155||19.37||0/ 1|
His favourite opponent
A couple of aspects about Laxman's career stand out more than others. One was his record against the best team of his generation. He unfortunately ended his battles against Australia on a low, averaging less than 20 in his final series, but in 29 Tests against them he scored almost 2500 runs. Over the period of his career, only Sachin Tendulkar scored more runs against Australia than Laxman.
Going into his final series, Laxman averaged 55.58 against them in 25 Tests, and needed only 171 runs in eight innings to ensure that his overall average against them stayed over 50. However, so desperate was his form on that tour that he scored only 155 in eight innings, which means despite several outstanding knocks against over his career, his average against Australia is marginally below 50.
|Sachin Tendulkar||29||3060||61.20||9/ 15|
|VVS Laxman||29||2434||49.67||6/ 12|
|Rahul Dravid||32||2126||38.65||2/ 13|
|Virender Sehwag||21||1794||43.75||3/ 10|
|Brian Lara||17||1786||55.81||7/ 4|
|Jacques Kallis||22||1557||42.08||3/ 9|
Laxman was one of the few batsmen who averaged more in the second innings (48.88) than in the first (44.25). In fact, his overall second-innings numbers stack up favourably against the best: among batsmen who've scored 3000-plus runs in second innings, only six have a higher average. Tendulkar (4546 runs at 44.13) and Dravid (4183 runs at 41.83) both have lower averages than Laxman. Among other top batting names, Ricky Ponting averages 42.81 in second innings, and Brian Lara 38.18. (Click here for the full list.)
|Jacques Kallis||107||4532||58.85||11/ 26|
|Alan Border||111||4371||54.63||11/ 24|
|Kumar Sangakkara||79||3700||53.62||12/ 15|
|Matthew Hayden||81||3472||51.82||11/ 13|
|Sunil Gavaskar||90||3963||51.46||11/ 22|
|Geoff Boycott||85||3319||51.06||9/ 17|
|VVS Laxman||91||3471||48.88||5/ 23|
|Desmond Haynes||86||3030||48.87||9/ 12|
His best period, against the best teams
As mentioned earlier, Laxman's inability to cash in on his opportunities against Bangladesh and Zimbabwe hurt his overall batting stats. Excluding his first 16 Tests and his last series, and considering stats against the top teams only, Laxman's average of 51.72 is marginally better than those of Dravid (51.24) and Tendulkar (50.04) over the same period (January 2000 to November 2011).
Overall, Laxman averaged more than 40 in both Australia and South Africa, unlike Dravid, who averaged only 29.71 in 11 Tests in South Africa. Laxman's problem, though, was England. While Dravid excelled there, England never saw the best of Laxman: in 11 Tests there, he had a highest of 74, and an average of 34.47.
|Jacques Kallis||105||9339||58.36||32/ 42|
|Shivnarine Chanderpaul||88||6943||54.24||21/ 36|
|Kumar Sangakkara||87||7755||54.23||23/ 32|
|Ricky Ponting||116||9846||53.51||31/ 43|
|Virender Sehwag||85||7628||52.60||22/ 27|
|VVS Laxman||105||7603||51.72||16/ 49|
|Rahul Dravid||111||9019||51.24||25/ 40|
The middle-order rock
One of the disappointing aspects which is often mentioned about Laxman's Test career is his lack of hundreds - he managed only 17 in 134 Tests, an average of one every almost eight Tests. However, one of the reasons for that is also his position in the batting line-up - 74 innings at No.5, and 67 at six. That often meant he was batting with the tail, and didn't always have the freedom to bat as he normally would with a top-order batsman. His overall stats at those positions, though, are outstanding: his aggregate of 5637 is the third-highest by any batsman in those two positions in Tests, and he averaged almost 50 at those slots too.
|Steve Waugh||221||9919||54.50||30/ 45|
|Shivnarine Chanderpaul||168||7912||57.33||21/ 46|
|VVS Laxman||141||5637||48.59||11/ 37|
|Allan Border||133||5627||52.10||15/ 32|
|Michael Clarke||106||5422||57.07||19/ 19|
|Mohammad Azharuddin||126||5340||45.25||19/ 17|
|Sourav Ganguly||146||5165||38.54||10/ 29|
|Clive Lloyd||119||5163||47.36||14/ 27|
King of spin
Laxman was pretty good against all types of bowling, but he was best against spinners. Shane Warne was famously at the receiving end in the 2001 series, but he also handled Muttiah Muralitharan very competently. In 496 balls from him, Laxman scored 240 runs and was dismissed just twice. Daniel Vettori kept the runs in check against him (159 runs from 522 balls), but dismissed him just twice. The one spinner who dominated him was Sri Lanka's Ajantha Mendis, who dismissed him seven times conceding just 166 runs (average 23.71). The only other bowler who dismissed Laxman seven times in Tests was Brett Lee, but while Lee took 12 Tests for dismissals, Mendis achieved it in only six. (Click here for the list of bowlers who dismissed Laxman most often in Tests.)
Overall since June 2001, Laxman averaged 58 versus spin and 44.78 against pace and medium pace.
|Bowler type||Balls||Runs||Dismissals||Average||Run rate|
|Pace/ Medium pace||8815||4434||99||44.78||3.01|
The VVS-Eden love affair
Laxman's stand-out innings at the ground was obviously his 281 against Australia in 2001, but even apart from that he had several memorable performances at the Eden Gardens. Way back in 1998, he almost scored his maiden century there (against Australia, who else), scoring 95. Overall, in 15 Test innings there, he scored five hundreds and three fifties, and averaged 110.63. In his last three Test innings in Kolkata, Laxman notched up three unbeaten hundreds: 112 against Pakistan, 143 against South Africa, and 176 against West Indies.
Indian batsmen generally don't get the opportunity to play too many Tests at a single ground, due to the high number of Test grounds in India, but Laxman is one of only two Indians to score 1000-plus runs at a ground; Gavaskar is the only other. Laxman's aggregate of 1217 in Kolkata is also the highest by an Indian at a venue. The other ground which was especially kind to Laxman was Sydney: in four Tests he scored three hundreds, and averaged 78.42. (Click here for Laxman's venue-wise stats.)
|VVS Laxman||Eden Gardens, Kolkata||10||1217||110.63||5/ 3|
|Sunil Gavaskar||Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai||11||1122||56.10||5/ 3|
|Sunil Gavaskar||MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai||12||1018||59.88||3/ 3|
|Rahul Dravid||Eden Gardens, Kolkata||9||962||68.71||4/ 3|
|Sachin Tendulkar||MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chennai||9||876||87.60||5/ 1|
|Mohammad Azharuddin||Eden Gardens, Kolkata||7||860||107.50||5/ 2|
Being an integral part of a middle-order that played together over such a long period meant Laxman played plenty of times with Dravid, Tendulkar and Ganguly, and forged some very meaningful partnerships with them. His stands with Dravid are, of course, legendary: they are one of seven pairs - and the only Indians - to put together two or more triple-century partnerships, and the only ones to do so against Australia. With Tendulkar, Laxman was involved in nine century partnerships, the highest being 353 in Sydney in 2004.
What isn't so well known is his partnership with MS Dhoni. Most of their productive stands came in home Tests, but they're the only pair to put together two double-century stands for the last four wickets - they did so against South Africa (unbeaten 259-run stand in 2010) and West Indies (224 in 2011), both in Kolkata. The Laxman-Dhoni combination is the third-most prolific, in terms of partnership runs, for the sixth and seventh wickets in Tests.
|Partner||Innings||Runs||Ave stand||100/ 50 stands|
|Rahul Dravid||86||4065||51.45||12/ 14|
|Sachin Tendulkar||73||3523||51.05||9/ 19|
|Sourav Ganguly||41||1681||43.10||5/ 7|
|MS Dhoni||27||1361||56.70||3/ 8|
Beyond the batting
Apart from all his batting exploits, there was also Laxman the catcher, who was a huge asset in the slips and close to the bat against the spinners. His 135 catches is the second-best for an Indian, next only to Dravid's 209. Almost 20% of his catches came off one bowler: c VVS Laxman b Anil Kumble was a dismissal mode that happened 26 times in Tests. In Mohali against England in 2001, he snared four catches in the first innings - only three Indian fielders have taken more catches in an innings.
Laxman in ODIs
Laxman's international career was mostly about Test cricket, but he also played 86 ODIs, and was unlucky to miss out on the 2003 World Cup. As in Tests, Australia were his favourite ODI opponents as well: four of his six hundreds came against them, and three in Australia. His best year in ODIs was by far 2004, when he scored four centuries in 24 innings, including three in the VB Series in Australia. In fact, Laxman is one of only four batsmen to score three centuries in an ODI series in Australia - Mark Waugh, Graeme Hick and David Gower are the others. Laxman may not fit into that group as an ODI batsman, but he does in another way: along with Gower and Waugh, he will walk into any shortlist of the most elegant and classy batsmen to play the game.
# 03:35 GMT, Aug 19: The numbers for balls and runs against spin had been wrongly interchanged
S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter