VVS Laxman masterminds daylight robbery over Australia at Mohali

Pragyan Ojha (left) and VVS Laxman added 11 runs for the final wicket to setup a close one-wicket win for India over Australia at Mohali © Getty Images

On October 5, 2010, an injured VVS Laxman returned to torment Australia and stole victory from the jaws of defeat. At a time when it looked unlikely that India would chase down the total, Laxman essayed a fluent knock as the No. 10 Ishant Sharma held firm at one end. In the end, it was a thrilling finish, with all drama, Laxman losing his cool, overthrows and a lot more as India romped home with one wicket to spare. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks back at that victory.

Through the 2000s, the Australians dreaded the sight of VVS Laxman at the batting crease. At Kolkata in 2001 or Adelaide in 2003, the wristy Hyderabadi batsman had carved a niche of being the rescuer and stealing victory from the jaws of defeat. However, on October 5, 2010, Australia may have felt that victory was theirs even though their nemesis was battling hard. Chasing 216, India were 124 for eight with an injured Laxman left to battle it out against his age old foes. Surely, this time they couldn’t lose!

By the dawn of 2010, India had been crowned the number one side in Test cricket and were eyeing domination under the leadership of Mahendra Singh Dhoni. Ricky Ponting led a relatively young side into India in October that year. The Australians weren’t the same force after the retirements of their greats, but still had plenty of fire to dominate the Indians and emerge victorious. The first Test commenced on October 1 at the Punjab Cricket Association Stadium, Mohali.

Ponting won the toss and elected to bat first. Led by Shane Watson’s largely attritional 126, Ponting’s 71 and Tim Paine’s 92, Australia posted 428. On Day Two, Virender Sehwag smashed the ball around late in the day to speed through to a fifty. The next day (Day Three), Sachin Tendulkar (98), Rahul Dravid (77) and Suresh Raina (86) looked set to take India beyond Australia’s total, but a late collapse saw them finish in 405, conceding a lead of 23.

On Day Four, Australia commenced their second innings and the onus was on India to get things going. Watson and Simon Katich got Australia off to a good start and were moving towards a hundred. The opening wicket put 87 before Ishant Sharma produced the breakthrough and ran through the top order. Zaheer Khan, Pragyan Ojha and Harbhajan Singh got into the act to take wickets at regular intervals and bundle Australia out for 192. With a little over a day to go and 216 to get, India were firm favourites to win the contest.

Gautam Gambhir and Sehwag walked out to bat and provide India a good start. Disaster struck in the very first over. Gambhir tried to defend a delivery from Ben Hilfenhaus, but got an inside edge onto the pads. Billy Bowden failed to take a note of that and Gambhir had to depart for a duck. The southpaw was disappointed and walked back to the hut as Dravid entered. Along with Sehwag, he steadied the ship and took India to 31 before Dravid poked at one outside the off-stump and was caught behind off Doug Bollinger. Tendulkar then joined Sehwag. As the day moved to a close, Sehwag tried to guide one to third-man, but spooned a catch to gully. Suresh Raina then fell to his fatal flaw against the bouncer for naught. Zaheer Khan walked out as the night-watchman and safely saw India through to the end of day’s play at 55 for four. All hopes once again were pinned on the shoulders of Tendulkar. But, Laxman was waiting in the dressing room.

The next day, Tendulkar commenced his battle, hoping for some support from Zaheer. Australia knew they had the upper hand and needed to outsmart Tendulkar. Zaheer fell early when he tried to defend Nathan Hauritz. The ball didn’t turn and went straight on. Zaheer edged it to first-slip as India were now 76 for five. Laxman walked out to bat in the company of Raina as a runner. Having suffered a back injury, he needed assistance. India’s precarious position meant that Laxman batted despite his niggle. In the first essay, he batted as low as number nine. The Aussies may have felt that Laxman wasn’t up for the challenge.

Tendulkar and Laxman then started rebuilding the innings. In tandem, they took the attack to Australia and essayed some of their trademark strokes. There were a few strokes of luck as some edges went past the slips. Tendulkar was in great form that year and was riding his luck. While Laxman couldn’t run, he made the most for it with those elegant shots to the boundary. But, Tendulkar’s luck ran out when he tried to cut one very close to his body off Bollinger and spooned a catch to gully where Michael Hussey was stationed. The score read 119 for six and Dhoni joined Laxman. But, with the runner in the centre there was always going to be confusion at some point.

Laxman pushed one to mid-off, and amidst all the “yes” and “no”, Dhoni ran to the striker’s end as the direct him found him short. A couple of balls later, Harbhajan was done in by a snorter from Bollinger, which climbed and took the edge of his bat at slip. India had now slumped to 124 for eight, staring at defeat. Ishant Sharma was known to have a gritty technique, but this task seemed too monumental.  

In the next few overs before lunch, Laxman and Ishant played a few attacking strokes to make up for the damage. Bollinger had a niggle and he didn’t bowl for the rest of the innings. That worked to India’s advantage. Ishant picked up a couple of boundaries by flirting with ones outside the off-stump. In contrast, Laxman showed authority with his cuts and a great pull past mid-wicket. There was again another run-out scare, but India went into lunch at 162 for eight, still miles away from the total. Post lunch, Laxman took control essaying some of the most delightful strokes. At first, there were normal oohs and aahs from the Australians as they felt it was a matter of a good ball or two. But, even Ishant grew in confidence as he was resolute in defence and assured in his strokeplay. Laxman brought his fifty off only 48 balls with another pull through mid-wicket.

Ishant survived a few close calls. One bouncer had him in all trouble, but he gloved it for four. Fortune favours the brave they say! Ponting started getting nervous as they took India past 200. Soon, their partnership was worth 80. At one end, you had the grace and timing of Laxman, and on the other there was Ishant’s remarkable resilience. Suddenly, India needed lest than 20. The countdown had begun!

On 205, Hilfenhaus delivered a full delivery to Ishant, which hit him on the pads. Ian Gould raised his finger and the lanky pacer had to go. Replays showed the ball would have gone down the leg-side, but Ishant had to walk back for a valiant 31. Now, 11 were needed as Ojha entered the cauldron. Laxman had only one message, “Survive and give me strike!”

Laxman then worked the strike around, aiming for areas where two were on offer. On one occasion, he pushed it back and there was confusion between Raina and Ojha. It nearly resulted in another run-out as Laxman was furious at Ojha, hurling a few words. Never had we seen Laxman in that mood! That was what the game meant to him. The wounded gladiator was still there for a fight.

Ojha nervously took strike to Mitchell Johnson in the 59th over with six to get. He played and missed one tentatively. The next ball, trapped him right in front and Australia were appealing for everything. It looked pretty adjacent, but umpire Bowden didn’t budge. Ojha had wandered out of his crease in the meanwhile, the substitute Steven Smith picked up the ball from backward point and tried to hit the stumps direct. As Ojha tried to get back, Smith’s throw missed the stumps by a whisker and soon, it sped away to the mid-wicket boundary for four overthrows. The Australians had their heads in their hands as Indians started feeling more confident. Surprisingly, the umpire gave them as runs.

Two to get! Johnson ran in and strayed on to Ojha’s pads. It hit his body and trickled to fine-leg as Raina and Ojha sprinted across to complete two. Another Laxman heist over the Aussies was complete! The Indian team ran on to the park. Ojha celebrated like a batsman, taking his helmet off and waving the bat. Ponting could do nothing but watch. It was a picture of agony and ecstasy. Laxman was finally beaming with joy! He had had done this before, but this time, it was all too different. Previously, he had setup thrilling games, but this time he created one out of a lost cause. An inconceivable heist was engineered by Laxman.

What followed

  • Laxman missed the next Test and Cheteshwar Pujara came in as a replacement.

  • India won the next Test at Bangalore courtesy Sachin Tendulkar’s double hundred and swept the Aussies 2-0 in the series.

  • This was Laxman’s final heroic act against his old rivals. He struggled during the tour Down Under in 2011-12 and called it a day in 2012.

Brief scores:

Australia 428 (Shane Watson 126, Ricky Ponting 71, Tim Paine 92; Zaheer Khan 5 for 94) and 192 (Shane Watson 56; Ishant Sharma 3 for 34, Zaheer Khan  3 for 43) lost to India 405 (Rahul Dravid 77, Sachin Tendulkar 98, Suresh Raina 86; Mitchell Johnson 5 for 64) and 216 for 9 (Sachin Tendulkar 38, VVS Laxman 73*, Ishant Sharma 31; Ben Hilfenhaus 4 for 57, Doug Bollinger 3 for 32) by 1 wicket.

Man of the Match: Zaheer Khan

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_44)