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VVS Laxman: The story of India’s greatest match winner in Tests

VVS Laxman: The story of India's greatest match winner in Tests

VVS Laxman’s knack of playing well with tailenders was crucial in enabling India pull off many wins from seemingly impossible situations © AFP

The game of cricket has been shorn of the elegant graces with the unexpected retirement of VVS Laxman. While most batsmen were absorbed in the science of batsmanship, Laxman enthralled spectators the world over by bringing out the fine arts of the game like few have in the history of the game.

 

Laxman made his Test debut at the age of 22, on November 20, 1996 against South Africa at Ahmedabad. His unique ability to drive Indian victories in crisis situations started right from his very first Test match. India were trailing by 23 runs against South Africa after the first innings and were then reeling at 91 for five in the second innings, when his crucial innings of 51 against the likes of Allan Donald, Fannie de Villiers and Brian McMillan took India to a respectable total of 190. South Africa were then bowled out for 105, thanks to an inspired spell of fast-medium bowling by Javagal Srinath who ended up with figures of six for 21.

 

Laxman then played in a couple of Test matches during India’s tour to South Africa in 1996-97 but failed to make an impression. It was also unfortunate that his batting was cut short in the first innings of the 3rd Test when he fractured his finger. With an average of just over 23 in his first four Tests, Laxman did not do much good for his cause. Coming in at the No 6 or positions didn’t quite allow him to display his true abilities as a batsman. 

 

When he made it to the tour of West Indies in March 1997, he was moved to the opening slot in the first Test at Kingston, Jamaica – a surface known for extraordinary pace and bounce – and scored an impressive 64 facing the likes of Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Ian Bishop and Franklyn Rose. However, the rest of the series didn’t pan out as expected and he ended up with an average of 26.66 in six innings. 

 

He continued to bat as an opener for a total of 14 Tests and ended up scoring 699 runs at an average of 27.96. The only exception in his otherwise miserable journey as an opener was the exceptional innings of 167 against Australia in Sydney in January 2000. India required 402 runs to avoid an innings defeat, when VVS produced a masterly display and hit 27 boundaries against Glenn McGrath and Co.  India were bowled out for 261, with Laxman contributing 64% of those runs! 

 

He was then moved from the opening slot to No.6 under the leadership of Sourav Ganguly in November 2000. In his next two Tests he still didn’t make much of an impact and the axe was hanging strong on his head when he walked out to bat in the first innings against Australia at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata on March 12, 2001.

 

Australia had put on 445 in the first innings, thanks to Steve Waugh’s 110 and Laxman walked in when India were reeling at 88 for four on Day 2. The batsmen at the other end folded up quickly and India were looking dismal at 97 for seven when Laxman, along with the tail enders, managed to take India to 128 for eight at the end of Day 2.  He resumed at his overnight score of 26 and took India to 171 on Day 3 before lunch. He made only 59, but he was the lone shining star in that innings. 

 

With India trailing by 274 runs, Steve Waugh enforced the follow-on. India lost the first wicket before lunch and skipper Ganguly and coach John Wright decided to send VVS at No. 3. Little did they realise the historic nature of their decision! Laxman had a 117-run partnership with Ganguly before the skipper was dismissed for 48. India were struggling to save the Test match at 232 for four. Rahul Dravid walked in and the rest is history. They had a record 376 run partnership for the fifth wicket, batted the entire 4th day of the Test and India declared the innings setting Australia a target of 384.

 

India won the Test and beat the world champions by 172 runs. Laxman scored 281 in that 2nd innings and this knock, which was rated by Wisden as the 6th best Test innings ever, will possibly remain the best ever played by an Indian. India ultimately went on to win the series 2-1 and this was the biggest turning point in Laxman’s career. He had announced his arrival to the cricket world scoring 503 runs in three Tests at an average of 83.83.

 

 

Consistency was a major issue for Laxman. The No. 3 position which had worked wonders in the Australia series did not continue the magic for long. Following an ordinary run in his next three Tests following that series, he again moved back to the No 6-7 position. He eventually remained in that position for the most part of the rest of his career spanning 109 Tests. 

 

His knack of playing well with tailenders was crucial in enabling India pull off many wins from impossible situations. Laxman’s career figures are quite interesting from a statistical perspective and reinforce the match-winning nature of his batting. 

 

 

Tests

 

Runs

Highest

Average

100s

50s

Overall Career

134

8,781

281

45.97

17

56

India Win

47

3,410

281

55.90

7

23

Match drawn

46

3,380

200*

62.59

8

22

India lose

41

1,991

167

26.19

2

11

Home soil – Overall

57

3,767

281

51.60

8

24

Home soil – India won

27

1,968

281

59.63

4

14

Home soil – India lose

10

350

79*

18.42

0

2

Home soil – Match drawn

20

1449

200*

69.00

4

8

Overseas – Overall

77

5,014

178

42.49

9

32

Overseas – India Won

20

1,442

148

51.50

3

9

Overseas – India lose

31

1641

167

28.78

2

9

Overseas – Match Drawn

26

1931

178

58.51

4

14

Against Australia – All Matches

29

2,434

281

49.67

6

12

Against Australia – India win

9

1077

281

71.80

2

8

Against Australia – India lose

14

712

167

25.42

2

1

Against Australia – Match drawn

6

645

200*

107.50

2

3

 

His career average in matches that India won is close to 56 as compared to his overall career average of about 46. His contribution is more significant in Tests that were won on home soil where he averaged close to 60 but even in overseas Test victories he averages 51.50 which is an exceptional achievement. His value in Test wins against Australia is huge where he averages close to 72!

 

His average of 62.59 in drawn Tests indicates that he has also played a very significant role in helping India save several Test matches. His abysmally low average of 26 in matches that India lost reiterates his importance for India to win test matches.

 

Top 10 knocks of Laxman’s career:

 

1.    281 against Australia at Eden Gardens, Kolkata in March 2001 – Result: India won

 

Australia 445 (SR Waugh 110, ML Hayden 97; Harbhajan Singh 7 for 123) and 212 (ML Hayden 67; Harbhajan Singh 6-73) lost to India 171 (VVS Laxman 59; McGrath 4-18) and 657-7 declared (VVS Laxman 281, R Dravid 180; McGrath 3-103)

 

 

2.    73 not out against Australia at Mohali in October 2010 – Result: India won

 

Australia 428 (SR Watson 126, TD Paine 92; Z Khan 5 for 94) and 192 (SR Watson 56; I Sharma 3-34) lost to India 405 (SR Tendulkar 98; MG Johnson 5-64) and 216-9 (VVS Laxman 73 n.o.; BW Hilfenhaus 4-57)

 

 

3.    96 against South Africa at Kingsmead, Durban in December 2010 – Result: India won

 

India 205 (VVS Laxman 38, MS Dhoni 35; DW Steyn 6 for 50) and 228 (VVS Laxman 79; LL Tsotsobe 3-43) bt South Africa 131 (HM Amla 33; Z Khan 3-36) and 215 (SG Prince 39 not out; S Sreesanth 3-45)

 

4.    73 against Australia at Perth in January 2008 – Result: India won

 

India 330 (R Dravid 93; MG Johnson 4 for 86) and 294 (VVS Laxman 79; SR Clark 4-61) bt Australia 212 (A Symonds 66; RP Singh 4-68) and 340 (MJ Clarke 81; IK Pathan 3-54)

 

5.    69 against Australia at Wankhede Stadium, Mumbai in November 2004 – Result: India won

 

India 104 (R Dravid 31 n.o.; J Gillespie 4 for 29) and 205 (VVS Laxman 69, SR Tendulkar 55; MJ Clarke 6-9) bt Australia 203 (DR Martyn 55, A Kumble 5-90) and 93 (ML Hayden 24; H Singh 5-29)

 

6.    103 not out against Sri Lanka at P Sara Oval, Colombo in August 2010 – Result: India won

 

Sri Lanka 425 (TT Samaraweera 137 not out, KC Sangakkara 75; PP Ojha 4 for 115) and 267 (TT Samaraweera 83; PP Ojha 3-89) lost toIndia 436 (V Sehwag 109, VVS Laxman 56; S Randiv 4-80) and 258-5 (VVS Laxman 103 not out, SR Tendulkar 54; S Randiv 5-82)

 

7.    73 against South Africa at New Wanderers, Johannesburg in Dec 2006 – Result: India won

India 249 (SC Ganguly 51 not out; SM Pollock 4 for 39) and 236 (VVS Laxman 73; SM Pollock 3-33) bt South Africa 84 (AG Prince 24; S Sreesanth 5-40) and 278 (AG Prince 97; S Sreesanth 3-59)

 

8.    148 against Australia at Adelaide Oval, Adelaide in December 2003 – Result: India won

 

Australia 556 (RT Ponting 242; A Kumble 5 for 154) and 196 (AC Gilchrist 43, SR Waugh 42; A Agarkar 6-41) lost to India 523 (R Dravid 233, VVS Laxman 148; AJ Bichel 4-118) and 233-6 (R Dravid 72 n.o., VVS Laxman 32; SCG Macgill 2-101)

 

9.    89 against South Africa at Port Elizabeth in Nov 2001 – Result: Match drawn

 

South Africa 362 (HH Gibbs 196; J Srinath 6 for 76) and 233-5 (JH Kallis 89; J Srinath 2 for 28) drew against India 201 (VVS Laxman 89; SM Pollock 5-40) and 206-3 (R Dravid 87; M Hayward 2-58)

 

10.  167 against Australia at SCG, Sydney in Jan 2000 – Result: India lost

 

India 150 (SR Tendulkar 45; G McGrath 5 for 48) and 261 (VVS Laxman 167; G McGrath 5 for 55) lost to Australia 552 (J Langer 223, RT Ponting 141 not out; J Srinath 2-105)

 

(Karthik Thyagaraja, a Canada-based IT professional, is an ardent devotee of Test cricket. He is huge fan of Sachin Tendulkar and gets very animated in any discussions involving the maestro)

 

Click here to view all the articles related to VVS Laxman’s retirement

 

 

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