VVS
“The 69 I got against Australia in 2004 at Wankhede was probably the toughest wicket I played on.”

March 13, 2001. Australia had won their 16th Test in a row in Mumbai. The 17th seemed moments away and this would be their first series win in India after over three decades. Responding to Australia’s 445 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata, India resumed play on Day Three at 128 for 8. VVS Laxman walked out in the middle with his state senior Venkatpathy Raju. At stake were India’s fortunes and Laxman’s career as well.

A fluent 59 from Laxman helped India to 171. The effort could not lift India to the follow-on mark but it was good enough to earn him a promotion to No. 3 in the next innings. India followed on. Laxman walked out to bat again in the second session at 52 for 1. The sport witnessed one of the greatest turnarounds. He ended Day Three on 109 and went on to ease his way to 281, the then highest score by an Indian, and a performance rated as one of Test cricket’s finest.

The 376-run stand between Rahul Dravid (180) and Laxman helped India to set a 384-run target. Harbhajan Singh followed his first innings seven-for with a six-for to bowl out Australians for 212, while Sachin Tendulkar claimed 3 wickets in a short burst. India had levelled the series 1-1.

Sixteen years since that day, in an exclusive interview with CricketCountry.com, I asked Laxman, our mentor, that what would be the moment in cricket history that he would like to re-enact as the protagonist. Without a second thought, Laxman replied, “I would still look to re-enact my own performance in 2001 against Australia (in Kolkata). That was one of the most remarkable matches I was a part of.”

However, Laxman went to mention about a performance that had inspired him in his formative years.

“I fondly remember the stories told to me about Gundappa Viswanath. He got 97 runs against the mighty West Indians at Chennai. On a difficult and dangerous wicket, he was square-cutting the fast bowlers. That knock helped India win the Test. Those kinds of knocks gave the inspiration. I wanted to play for the country and win matches in tough situations and tough wickets, or tough conditions. That is something I would love (to re-enact),” said Laxman.

It is a co-incidence that two of the most elegant batsmen to have played for India — Laxman and Viswanath, thrived under extreme pressure and difficult circumstances.

It was the fourth Test of the West Indies tour of India 1974-75. The surface at Madras presented uneven bounce from Day One. India elected to bat and soon found themselves at 76 for 6. India were eventually bowled out for 190 and Viswanath ended up scoring more than half of the side’s score. His 97 not out is regarded as one of the finest knocks in the history of Indian cricket.

He defied a lethal Andy Roberts, who went on to take 7 wickets in the innings. India went on to win the Test by 100 runs.

Excerpt from the interview:

Recalling his similar efforts in toughest of conditions. Laxman chose two knocks which he believes were very special. He rated the Mumbai surface in 2004 as the toughest he batted on. Forty wickets fell in that Test, in just over two days of play. Laxman’s 69 in the second innings helped India set a target of 107. Australia were bowled out for 93.

“The 69 I got against Australia in 2004 at Wankhede Stadium was probably the toughest wicket I played on. We went on to win the match, restricting Australia below 100 runs,” recalled Laxman.

The other knock he rated in the same breath was the 96 he got against South Africa in Durban in 2010. India were greeted with a green track. Laxman’s knock helped the visitors turn the table and script one of India’s finest overseas wins.

“The 96 I got against South Africa at Durban where none of the other batsmen got to fifty. I regret not getting that hundred but on that wicket to contribute in the team’s win was very satisfying,” Laxman added.