Best of India in Australia: VVS Laxman arrives with 167 at the SCG
VVS Laxman's maiden Test hundred at the SCG in 1990-2000 was a special one.

“If you get Dravid, great. If you get Sachin, brilliant. If you get Laxman, it’s a miracle.” These words, spoken by former Australian captain Steve Waugh, tell of the respect and fear that the artist known as VVS Laxman evoked in the Aussie camp.

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Waugh, then the leader of a side that had suffered significantly more than other teams against Laxman, made that statement in 2004. By then, Laxman had etched his name in Indian cricketing folklore for that Eden Gardens epic of 281 not out, and had helped India win a Test in Australia by scoring 148 in a stand of 303 with Rahul Dravid apart from scoring a sizzling 178 in Sydney.

Laxman would go on to score a third Test century in Australia – a subdued 109 at the SCG – and end his Test career with a batting average of 49.67 against Australia, with six centuries and 12 fifties. Those are staggering numbers, considering the chunk of those runs came against what was the best team in Test cricket.

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But it was Laxman’s maiden Test hundred, scoring in the last match of a series India lost 0-3, that showed the global cricket audience why his nickname of ‘Very, Very Special’ rang true.

During the 1999-00 tour, Laxman – a makeshift opener – salvaged some respect for India in the final Test of a forgettable tour when hit a glittering 167 at the SCG. None of his team-mates made more than 25. India lost the Test by an innings and 141 runs, and yet a statement had been made.

VVS Laxman laced 27 fours during his 167 at the SCG
VVS Laxman laced 27 fours during his 167 at the SCG.@AFP

At the age of 28, Laxman emphatically said that he deserved to play Test cricket. In five previous innings on that tour, he had scraped together 54 runs. Self-doubt was seeping in. He opened the innings at the SCG against a pace attack comprising Glenn McGrath, Damien Fleming and the rookie pace tearaway Bret Lee and proceeded to smack them around the stadium while batting on a different level than his team-mates.

India made 261, of which Laxman had 167 off 198 balls – note the strike rate, 84 – with 27 fours.

“I think that knock of 167 was very important for me. Also, getting a hundred in Australia was special because right from my childhood I used to watch Test matches being played in Australia,” recalled Laxman in 2011. “I used to get up early in the morning and watch the Test matches and listen to legends like Bill Lawry, Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell commentate on the match. So getting my first Test hundred in Australia, where I have always dreamt of playing for my country, was very encouraging and satisfying.”

Indeed, that 167 in Sydney turned a corner for Laxman, for two years later came the epic 2000-01 series when his 281 gave Indian cricket a new dimension while taking India to an unforgettable win – after they had been forced to follow-on.

Not since Ian Botham has there been a tormentor of Australians like Laxman, and the SCG was where it all began.