‘Ishant's knock was very important'

The joyous V.V.S Laxman is all smiles,while the Australian captain Ricky Ponting is crestfallen. The Aussies are Laxman's favourite foes.-PICS: K.R. DEEPAK

“It is difficult to rank this Mohali innings in a particular order when you talk of the Kolkata 281 or the Sydney hundred. But, certainly, this was one of the best. But, why this innings should stand out is from the perspective that I was not 100 per cent fit and also considering the situation when I walked in,” V. V. S. Laxman tells V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman served yet another reminder of why he is so special by masterminding a sensational, come-from-behind win against his favourite opponents, the Australians, in the first Test in Mohali. His unbeaten 73 (79 balls, 8 x 4) reflected his famous ability to battle adversity, this time despite a back spasm (he batted with a runner right through). In his 114th Test, in a 15-year-long career at the highest level, Laxman dished out an object lesson, literally, in the art of wriggling out of a crisis.

How did he achieve a magnificent feat yet again against the Australians? Well, Laxman, in a chat with Sportstar, recalls those moments which he should cherish for a long, long time.

Question: What was your thought process before you went out and played that sensational, match-winning innings against Australia in the first Test in Mohali?

Answer: On the fourth day, when our bowlers did a tremendous job to bowl out Australia for 192 and restrict the winning target to just 216, I was only hoping that I would not have to bat. For, on that evening, I had a chat with Gary (Kirsten) about the stiffness of my back and the spasm.

Then, what forced the change?

Well, when we lost quick wickets on the fourth evening I realised that there would be no choice for me but to bat. Initially, I was thinking of batting after MS (Dhoni). But, once I had ‘nets' and started timing beautifully that evening, Gary told me it would be better for me to bat earlier.

How do you rate this innings amongst the so many specials you have played over the years?

It is difficult to rank in a particular order when you talk of the Kolkata 281 or the Sydney hundred. But, certainly, this was one of the best. But, why this innings should stand out is from the perspective that I was not 100 per cent fit and also considering the situation when I walked in.

What was the conversation between you and Sachin Tendulkar out there in the middle when you went in to bat?

Frankly, I just told him to keep talking to me to divert my attention from the severe back pain. And, I am glad we did that quite well.

At 124 for eight India was staring at defeat. What was your honest impression then?

Yes, two mistakes and we would have lost the Test. But, I must reassert that more than my innings, Ishant's knock was very important and valuable in the final analysis. As a batsman I was supposed to bat well, but being a bowler and on a heavy dose of injections to alleviate the pain in the leg, I think Ishant did a fantastic job. He showed great character and temperament under intense pressure.

When did you gain confidence in him because you were giving the strike quite frequently to him?

If you remember in the Galle Test in Sri Lanka recently I and Ishant had a pretty useful partnership of 60-plus. Then, I realised that he was a very handy bat. And, let me tell you, the Indian bowlers work really hard in the nets to improve their batting skills.

It is said that you often end up as a batting coach to the likes of Harbhajan and Ishant. How do you enjoy that?

I respect their level of commitment. And, it is my nature to tell frankly anything that will improve somebody's performance level. But, I also make it a point to keep things very simple, to be effective.

When did you start getting the ‘feel' despite that serious back spasm?

Laxman has great confidence in Ishant Sharma's batting prowess.-

When I hit Nathan Hauritz for two boundaries, I knew that I could hang on and started feeling better psychologically, if not physically. Remember there was acute pain. So, it was good that I got those two important boundaries very early.

What is the special effort you make to shut out the pressure factor so consistently when you face a challenge, especially against the Aussies?

I treat any such situation as fighting a losing cause. I never think of the result. This helps the focus to shift and makes me concentrate more on the immediate target which is to put up a good fight. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. But, I keep telling myself just to keep fighting and prolong the issue as long as possible. In the case of the Mohali Test, I reiterate that I take a lot of pride in Ishant's characteristic feature of not to give up. This really helped us win the Test eventually.

If you are asked to dedicate this one special innings, who would be your choice?

My wife (Sailaja). I was having too many negative thoughts before that innings. But, it was her moral support during telephonic chats that kept my spirit up.

Do you believe that this was a significant innings which has redefined your goals in Test cricket?

I don't think on those lines. But, yes, it gave me immense satisfaction that I could contribute in my own humble way for an Indian victory. I looked at it as a huge opportunity, a challenge, and I am proud of doing my job successfully for my country.

Can you say why you are so consistent against the Australians, especially in seemingly hopeless situations on the field?

(Laxman has a big laugh). I don't know why. But, I am really happy and feel proud to get these runs against the best bowlers and one of the best teams ever. Somehow, these innings have been fantastic experiences for me over the years.

What was the biggest compliment after your great Mohali innings?

I think the way the entire Indian team felt so happy with my effort was a huge tribute in itself. But I would like to mention here that that I felt humble when Sachin walked across to tell me that this was the best innings he had ever seen me play. It was wonderful of him to say those words.

Do you believe that you don't get the recognition which the other big guns of Indian batting get?

I don't think on those lines. Playing 114 Tests is itself a huge recognition, especially for someone like me who never thought of cricket as a profession. I do believe that the biggest recognition is that which comes from your team-mates when they respect you and look up to you. I can say this Indian team is an incredible unit, thoroughly enjoying the game and respecting each other's capabilities and trying to improve with each passing day.

What is the message for your fans?

I just want to keep performing well for the country. Let me tell you again that the hunger for runs is still there. And, I also take the opportunity to appeal to the millions of fans to wish our team success in the 2011 World Cup. The simple reason is I believe we have got the team to win the Cup.

Finally, how do you look at playing your first Test in front of your home crowd in November when India takes on New Zealand in Hyderabad?

I'm really excited about that. It will be one of my dreams come true. Hope I get a century in front of my home fans to make it a really special occasion.