In the hour of need, with imminent defeat staring in the face, champions rise and become part of folklore. VVS Laxman was one such hero – the ever dependable figure who produced his best in situations of crisis. When the formidable batting line-up stuttered, they looked upon this elegant Hyderabadi to clear the muddle and lift India to safety. While his association with Rahul Dravid scripted a number of great comebacks, Laxman’s own, near single-handed efforts are equally unforgettable.
Here is a list of Laxman’s greatest efforts in the deepest muddles – knocks that rewrote history and carved his own niche.
1. 281 vs Australia at Kolkata, March 11-15, 2001
It is a knock that defined the word epic and put Laxman’s name into the annals of cricketing history for eternity. A career-defining knock that made the world stand up and take notice of this fantastic talent with subtle wrists. The mighty Australians enforced the follow-on after being a comfortable 274 runs ahead. Steve Waugh and his men would have expected to wrap up pretty quickly. The wristy Hyderabadi walked in at No 3 and delivered a gladiator-like performance at the coliseum of the Eden Gardens. Shane Warne was mercilessly yet gracefully flicked all over the place and the fast bowlers were left with their head in their hands. In the company of Rahul Dravid, he put on a mammoth 376 runs that took India past 600. India declared on the final day and bowled out Australia to win the game by 171 runs.
2. 148 vs Australia at Adelaide, December 12 -16, 2003
Australia’s nemeses were back in business, although it was Dravid who took the centrestage this time around. Having put up 556 on the board after batting first, Australia seemed to have the upper hand – more so once India were reduced to 85 for four. Both men then started to battle with the Australian bowlers and calmly got the scoreboard ticking. It was déjà vu Kolkata as Waugh’s Australians felt the heat again. By the time Laxman was dismissed for 148 – a fluent knock full of his trademark shots – India were in a position of relative safety. Ultimately, it was that partnership that made the difference as Australia were bowled out cheaply in their second essay, leaving India with 230 to win the game – a challenge that was overhauled without much trouble.
3. 73 not out vs Australia at Mohali, October 1-5, 2010
The remarkable effort at Mohali may not have been up there with Kolkata in terms of magnitude, but there couldn’t have been a more thrilling knock. Chasing 216 to win, India lost wickets at regular intervals to be reduced to 124 for eight – with Laxman being the lone sentinel standing. Laxman batted at No 10 in the first innings due to a back problem – one that continued to bother him on the big day. With Ishant Sharma at the other end, Laxman commenced a remarkable counter-attack that left the tourists shell-shocked. Ishant was stoic in his defence even as Laxman essayed his trademarks at the other. There was more drama as Ishant fell with India 11 runs short of the target. The No 11 – Pragyan Ojha held on and India clinched a dramatic one wicket win. However, it wasn’t without Laxman’s unusually losing his cool on a clueless Ojha – a picture that signified the intensity of the contest.
4. 96 vs South Africa at Durban, December 26-19, 2010
On a tricky wicket at Durban, both sides found it difficult to adjust to the conditions. India were bowled out for 205 after batting first – Laxman top scorer with 38 – a prelude to what was to come. Zaheer Khan and Co. dismantled South Africa for 131 giving India a crucial advantage. However, the pitch still had its questions and Laxman was left to clear another muddle with India at 56 for four. In a game dominated by the bowlers, Laxman wielded his artistic willow to carve previous runs for India. Wickets kept falling at the other end but he took India’s lead past 300. Laxman guided the tail and added 80 runs with the last three wickets. With a well-deserved hundred in sight, Laxman edged Dale Steyn to the wicket-keeper. The target of 303 proved too much for South Africa as they lost the game by 87 runs. How crucial were those runs scored with the last three men?
5. 103 vs Sri Lanka at Colombo, August 3-7, 2010
Before Mohali and Durban, Laxman’s dazzled at Colombo with a display that was a lesson on the art of batting against spin. Suraj Randiv – the Sri Lankan off-spinner – was wreaking havoc on a fourth-innings wicket with India chasing 257 for a win. Going into the final day India were 53 for three, with Tendulkar and night-watchman Ishant at the crease. Ishant fell soon with the score at 62 when Laxman entered the stage. Along with Tendulkar, Laxman craftily dealt with the Sri Lankan spinners denying them chances of getting on top. Even when Tendulkar fell after a patient half century, there was still work to do and Laxman continued to wage the battle. In the end, India got home comfortably and Laxman recorded a memorable hundred – one that not only tackled the spinners but also battled back spasms.
6. 79 vs Australia at Perth, January 16-19, 2008
In the aftermath of the controversial Sydney Test, the focus was off the field. Anil Kumble’s inspiring leadership steadied the ship and scripted something that was least expected of the Indian team – winning a Test match at Perth. Going into the second innings, India had a sizeable lead of 118 runs. However, India’s charge was a stop-start affair with too many wickets falling. Laxman walked at 125 for five – a precarious position. He kept stringing together crucial partnerships that frustrated Australia and took India’s challenge well past 400. Dhoni, Irfan Pathan and Rudra Pratap Singh recorded cameos, but Laxman held firm to restore balance. Laxman put up 59 runs along with the last three wickets – a crucial number considering the fact that India won the game by 72 runs.
7. 73 vs South Africa at Johannesburg, December 15-18 2006
Going into the first Test at Johannesburg, history was against the tourists as they had never won a Test in the Rainbow Nation and had lost the preceding one-day series 4-0. However, an inspired team rose to the challenge and shocked the hosts by bowling them out for 84 taking a lead of 165 runs. India needed to put up a challenging score, but found themselves in a spot of bother at 41 for three. Laxman took matters in his own hands and didn’t let the procession at the other end affect his rhythm. Yet again, he was left with the tail to do the work and put up crucial 70 runs with Zaheer Khan. By the time Laxman was dismissed with the score at 218, India had a good lead on the board. Again, considering the victory margin of 123 runs, one can only judge the value of Laxman’s effort and his dealings with the tail.
8. 91 vs New Zealand at Ahmedabad, November 4-8, 2010
If the United Nations wanted to pick a Year of Houdini Acts, the obvious choice would be 2010 – one where Laxman performed a number of unbelievable heists. The batsman dominated Test match at Ahmedabad seemed to be heading towards a draw as there wasn’t much to chose between the two sides on the fourth day (after both sides finished batting once). India were expected to bat out a small number of overs on day four and see the final day off with ease - something a certain Chris Martin chose to disagree with. India were reduced to a horrible 15 for five. With the need to bat India to safety, Laxman found Harbhajan for company with the score at 65 for six. While Harbhajan went about flaying with the bowling with his trademark bravado, Laxman was cool and composed during his vigil. A well-deserved hundred eluded him and the dramatic Harbhajan ton stole all the limelight. More importantly, India had saved the game.
9. 51 vs South Africa at Ahmedabad, November 20-23, 1996
On debut, Laxman gave a small glimpse of the dependable force he was to become. India commenced their second innings with the game in the balance – South Africa had a slender 21 run advantage at the end of the first essay. The spinners and the pacers found tremendous help from the wicket. Laxman walked in with India at 38 for three and had to deal with the Alan Donald’s vicious thunderbolts and the spinners – Pat Symcox and Paul Adams. His 125-ball vigil took India to 190 and along the way he struck a partnership with Anil Kumble – who scored 30. South Africa needed 170 to win the game, but Javagal Srinath and Kumble ensured that they fell 64 runs short – a detail that aptly reflects the value of Laxman’s knock.
10. 69 vs Australia at Mumbai, November 3-5, 2004
On a square turner at Mumbai, the spinners ruled the roost and spun a web around the batsmen. India had already lost the series, but were looking for a consolation win. Australia had taken a good 99-run lead at the end of the first innings and India had to make a game out of the contest. India promoted Laxman to No 3 after they lost an opener early. In the company of Tendulkar, he dealt with the conditions with measure. The word “crucial” would be an understatement to describe the value of this knock as India left Australia with a target of 107 and bowled them out for 93. If one has to determine its worth, a mere look at the scorecard would tell you – 20 wickets had fallen on that fateful third day of the Test match.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44 )