Laxman's glorious effort

S. DINAKAR

ONE side on a roll, the other on the run. One captain fired by that great dream to conquer 'the final frontier', the other fighting the fires that threaten to consume him.

India's 2001 home Test series against Australia had the right ingredients for either the greatest mismatch of the century, or, perhaps, the most remarkable turnaround!

V. V. S. Laxman's epic 281 brought him the 'Best Batting Performance' award.-N. SRIDHARAN

Steve Waugh's Aussies had steamrollered India by 10 wickets in the first Test in Mumbai, and when V.V.S. Laxman, walked in at 52 for one on the third day at the glorious Eden Gardens, the beleaguered Sourav Ganguly-led India, following on, 274 runs behind, had an ocean to swim across.

The Indians were staring down the barrel, yet the team-management had not stopped thinking. In an inspired move, it was decided that Laxman would bat No. 3, and vice-captain Rahul Dravid, No. 6. In other words, they would swap positions. The switch did the trick!

Now, the wristy Laxman, himself on a comeback trail, and under tremendous pressure to deliver following failures in the Mumbai Test, had batted fluently for his 59 in the first essay. The think-tank got the message alright. And he went on to unravel the innings of his life in the second as he set about slicing apart the feared Aussie bowling, a majestic drive here, a searing pull there, a delightful cut here, a stylish flick there, the gaps being found with clinical precision.

India was, however, not yet out of the woods when Dravid joined Laxman in the later stages of day three at 232 for four, still 42 short of avoiding an innings defeat. What followed was a stirring tale of talent, concentration and strength of mind.

Laxman and Dravid added an astonishing 376 runs for the fifth wicket, a match-turning partnership that saw both these 'friends and team-mates' pounding the Aussies, physically and mentally, with an amalgam of sound defence and exotic strokeplay.

The Aussie attack, inclusive of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Shane Warne, all match-winners, went wicketless on the fourth day and the boot was clearly on the other foot! Meanwhile, Laxman waltzed past Sunil Gavaskar's 236, the previous highest Test score by an Indian, and when he finally fell to McGrath early on the fifth day for an epic 281 (631 mins., 452b, 44 fours), his second three-figure knock in Test cricket, India had crossed the 600-run mark.

Dravid's 180 was a monumental effort as well, and India declared at 657 for seven before lunch on the final day. The home side had come back from the dead and it was the Aussies who were on the run now! They would go on to lose this Test and then the series.

The Ausssie juggernaut came to a grinding halt at the Eden Gardens following a 16-Test winning streak. Taking into account the situation, the quality of the opponent, the enormity of the knock, and the match and 'series' winning nature of the effort, Laxman's phenomenal 281, ranks as Wisden's best innings of the century by an Indian.