A natural and a match-winner

V. V. S. Laxman...in the classical mould.-K.R. DEEPAK

For all his exploits on the field, V. V. S. Laxman is often unsung, a missing face from the countless commercials that present-day cricketers appear in. But then, he takes immense joy and pride in delivering for India when the chips are down. An innings builder of rare skills, he goes about his work with single-mindedness and devotion, writes S. Dinakar.

On an unforgettable day at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium, V. V. S. Laxman conquered several peaks. What an innings he played!

There was intense pressure in the middle during a fourth innings chase on a fifth day track. The odd ball turned and bounced, and the close-in fielders waited in anticipation. As his innings progressed, Laxman was in immense discomfort. The excruciating pain from a spasm in his lower back could have weakened his resolve. And the energy-sapping humidity didn't make things easy. A lesser cricketer might have wilted, but Laxman surmounted all the barriers.

His was a compelling display of commitment. Apart from India's target of 257, he shut out everything else from his mind. While he was fiercely focussed, Laxman stroked the ball with the flow of a natural. His remarkable unbeaten 103, as India recovered to successfully chase down the runs for victory, oozed character. This soft-spoken man is a match-winner.

Indeed, this was a day when Laxman's heart appeared larger than his frame. It was astonishing that the shooting pain from his back did not impact his footwork. He still stretched his left leg forward to play those glorious cover drives. Laxman is gifted. Only a natural galloping on his skills could have pulled off those shots with such felicity even as his body was weakening.

A quality human being with strong values, Laxman is an old-fashioned cricketer who reserves his best for India in Tests. He holds his nerve in crisis situations even as he clinically dismantles the bowling. He does find the gaps with precision.

Test cricket with its different hues can make extreme demands on a cricketer's mind, body and technique. Situations and conditions change over five days. Laxman relishes the challenges. And he does build timeless edifices.

Laxman's immortal innings of 281 against Australia at Eden Gardens (2001) is, arguably, the greatest by an Indian in Tests. The marauding Australians were closing in for the kill as India followed on. The situation was adverse against a formidable opposition that was on a roll.

Laxman and his good friend Rahul Dravid (180) turned the game on its head. And gradually, the hunter became the hunted. India's remarkable come-from-behind victory in the final session in Kolkata lifted the morale of the side in difficult times. This was the catalyst for India's resurgence as a cricketing nation.

Nine years have passed since that epic knock at Eden Gardens, but the 35-year-old Laxman still retains his technical sophistication. He adapted to the conditions at the P. Sara ground effortlessly. The lanky off-spinner, Suraj Randiv, got the ball to turn and bounce. Laxman played with soft hands and sure feet movement, often getting on top of the ball. He picked the length early and was decisive with his response.

When Lasith Malinga bounced at him, Laxman pulled. When the bowlers strayed in line, he essayed the finest of glances. There were occasions when he whipped the ball from the off-stump — few batsmen have more dexterous wrists — to disrupt the line of the bowlers.

Despite his exploits, Laxman's spot in the Test team has forever been under scrutiny. He always seems to be walking on thin ice. Yet this genial man does not complain; he answers with the willow.

What a pair...V.V.S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid were involved in a record 376-run partnership for the fifth wicket against Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

His Test record is an illustrious one. In 50 Tests at home, Laxman has 3177 runs (average: 48.87) with seven centuries. His away performances too are immensely creditable. In 63 Tests on foreign soil, Laxman has 4238 runs (average: 46.06) with nine centuries. He comes in at No. 5 or No. 6 and often rallies the tail.

Laxman's equanimity is commendable as he, with his mind always alert to possibilities, bats with the lower order. In fact, he has developed this into a fine art. And whenever India has been in the middle of a slump, Laxman has been the man to his team's rescue. His stirring second innings 51 on debut against South Africa in the Ahmedabad Test of 1996 enabled the host to finish on the right side of a low-scoring humdinger. The South African attack included Allan Donald and Fanie de Villiers, both at their peak.

When shunted up the order, to the opener's slot, he blitzed a brilliant 167 against Australia in Sydney in 2000. Laxman collared Glenn McGrath and Brett Lee with finesse and timing.

Laxman is a wonderful player of bounce although he has been troubled on occasions by lateral movement. Given his attributes, he took flight on the sporting tracks in Australia. His Test innings of 148 (Adelaide) and 178 (Sydney) during India's tour of Australia in 2003 are remembered for the quality of shot-making and poise. He is a strong player off the back-foot, can cut, drive and pull. And on the 2008 tour of Australia, Laxman's 109 in Sydney was an innings of substance. Australia is a tough place to succeed in, but Laxman has revelled on pitches down under.

In 11 Tests in Australia, Laxman has scored 1081 runs at an impressive 54.05 with four centuries. His quiet determination and smooth-stroking ways with the willow have often overcome the Aussie aggression.

In England, where he could have struggled to cope with the moving deliveries — Laxman has a tendency to play without moving his feet early in his innings — he has 404 runs in seven Tests at a fair average of 44.88.

Laxman has not been found wanting either on the seaming, bouncing pitches in South Africa. He has 370 runs in seven Tests at 41.11 His priceless second innings 73 at the Wanderers in 2006 was instrumental in India registering its maiden Test victory on South African soil.

Yet, he is often unsung, a missing face from the countless commercials that present-day cricketers appear in. But then, he takes immense joy and pride in delivering for India when the chips are down. An innings builder of rare skills, he goes about his work with single-mindedness and devotion.

For Laxman, the joy of his team-mates as they embraced him following India's tremendous victory in the final Test against Sri Lanka was worth more than anything else.

His batting, wrapped in classicism, is of the history-making kind. Laxman keeps conjuring up these classics.