I had promised as far back as December 2007 that I would pay a tribute to India’s retiring generation of cricketers. I never really blogged much after that promise, until the start of this year. As a result I more than missed the bus. 2 of the 5 cricketers I had hoped to profile have already retired and another is under immense pressure to perform. In any case by the time this “Fab Five” retires India will have pretty big shoes to fill, hence the inevitable void.
If you know me personally you are probably aware of my passion for cricket. And if you don’t know me personally, here are 3 things I should tell you:
- My stated hobbies on Orkut include “memorizing cricket statistics”
- You can find evidence of the above in some questions that I post on Cricinfo.
- Even without a dish antenna here in the US, I manage to follow every ball bowled in every match that India plays, thanks to the Cricinfo commentary. I avoid sopcast, mind you, so Cricinfo commentary and my extremely fertile imagination help me create the whole picture in my mind quite effortlessly. In addition I follow every international match that takes place, though not necessarily ball by ball.
Anyway, back to the point. The cricketers I am going to talk about are:
I initially set out to pay my tribute in a single article, but then I realized that of late consulting has affected my brevity and I have been writing pretty long articles. So I split this out into 5 different posts. Hope you like it.
The first player I will talk about is VVS Laxman.
Some good players raise their level of play to a stratospheric level when faced with a tough opponent. Laxman is one such player and the opponent he likes so much is Australia. Though people remember him for the epic 281 at Eden Gardens, he has a lot of noteworthy innings.
- 167 in Sydney against Australia, 2000 – This innings should have given the Australians ample warning about things to come. Though India lost the match by an innings, Laxman’s 167 was breathtaking. More importantly his score was almost 64% of India’s total of 261 – something that fell marginally shy of breaking the oldest record in cricket – the one that Charles Bannerman set in the very first test by scoring 165 out of Australia’s 245, a whopping 67.35%!!
- 281 at Eden Gardens, Kolkata against Australia, 2001 – The innings of a lifetime! Australia had won 16 tests on the trot, crushing India in the previous test by an innings. Here they set up a solid 445 in their first innings and bundled out India for 171. Following on, when India lost its first wicket, in an inspired move captain Sourav Ganguly sent Laxman in at one down – a position typically occupied by Dravid. Then India lost 3 more wickets, including those of Tendulkar at 115 for 3 and Ganguly at 232 for 4. India still needed 42 runs to make Australia bat again.
What followed was the stuff of dreams. Dravid joined Laxman at the crease and the 5th wicket partnership lasted a whopping 376 runs. The pair batted throughout the fourth day and thoroughly wore out Australia on a hot and humid summer day in Kolkata. The sad part was Laxman missing out on becoming the first Indian to make a triple century on the 5th morning. But the battering was so severe that Harbhajan Singh and the Indian spin attack played havoc. And quite incredibly, Australia LOST!!
I remember sitting at the office during the last half hour of the match, unable to concentrate. One of my good friends, Ashish Goel called up his home, asked his wife Alankrita to put the phone’s receiver near the TV, then switched on the speakerphone at his desk. And all of us shared the thrill of this spine-tingling victory.
There have been only three instances in the history of cricket where a team following on has won a match. Australia has been at the receiving end in all three and this was the third instance. This match had such a profound impact on cricket in general that teams have been very reluctant to enforce a follow-on ever since.
- 154* at Kolkata against West Indies, 2002 – This was in the third innings of the match, after West Indies had built a first innings lead of 139. India was in the danger of being bundled out for a poor score after being 4 down for 87. Laxman joined Tendulkar in the middle and took India to safe shores. India managed to draw the match.
- 148 at Adelaide and 178 at Sydney against Australia, 2003-2004 – Two big centuries, two 300+ partnerships and an utterly frustrated Australia. By this time Laxman was a permanent fixture in the test team and his confidence was sky high. These innings were sublimely beautiful. The Adelaide innings came when India was in a tough situation. Again his partner in crime was Dravid, but this time Laxman played the supporting role. The Sydney innings was in Tendulkar’s company. Tendulkar had adopted a monastic approach, leaving any ball outside the off stump because of his dismissals that series. But Laxman had no such reservations and he delighted in feasting on the Aussie attack.
Laxman seems to derive sadistic pleasure in tormenting Australia. 6 of his 13 test centuries and his top 4 scores are against them. Most of the time he is a delight to watch – wristy, aggressive and with an array of strokes to rival the best. He has somehow not made much of an impact on ODIs, though 4 of his 6 centuries are against Australia in this format as well. Some of his ODI innings are remarkable too, like his 103* at Brisbane (against who else, but Australia!) and his 107 at Lahore against Pakistan in a match that helped us win the historic ODI series.
He has always been a stable influence on the middle order and is an expert on extracting the most from the tail. He also works excellently in tandem with Dravid. With his teammates being more high profile Laxman often doesn’t get the credit he deserves mainly because he bats so far down the order. I forever will remember him for one thing. 281.
Status: Still strong in tests, but out of ODIs.
Next up: Anil Kumble