There are few names in Indian cricket that still hold a special place in history. The likes of Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, Anil Kumble, Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman, all played a crucial part in taking Indian cricket to new heights.
Tendulkar was India’s run machine, Kumble made the opponents dance to his tunes, Ganguly was India’s best captain back then, Dravid’s perseverant game meant India could always count on him and Laxman was their go-to man during a crisis.
Together, they experienced mixed emotions; the 2003 World Cup heartbreak, the epic Border-Gavaskar Trophy draw in 2003, the historical Test series triumph in Pakistan in 2004 and many such moments were scripted by this clan.
These players set the bar very high for future players to scale. Their retirements indeed marked the end of an era, leaving India with a huge void to fill.
Then came a new run machine, Virat Kohli, to fill Tendulkar’s shoes, and a Ravichandran Ashwin who would eventually show signs of bettering Kumble. Ajinkya Rahane and Cheteshwar Pujara’s temperament and old fashioned technique would immediately draw comparisons with Dravid. Ganguly’s achievements were overshadowed by MS Dhoni, who went on to become India’s best-ever skipper by winning all possible ICC Trophies.
However, five years have passed since Laxman retired and India still haven’t found his perfect successor. There were several occasions when the Hyderabadi batsman shattered the opponents’ bowling attack to pull off a miraculous victory for India. Let’s look at five such games:
#1 India vs Australia, Kolkata Test, 2001
Batting for 631 minutes, the epic knock of 281 at Eden Gardens highlighted the name Vengapurappu Venkata Sai Laxman as one of the best in this format. The mighty Australians enforced the follow-on after they earned a lead of 274.
High on confidence, Steve Waugh and his boys, who were already 1-0 up in the Border-Gavaskar Series 2000-01, aimed to make it 2-0 in Kolkata.
Little did they know that a stubborn yet elegant Laxman was waiting on the other side. He built a classic 376-run stand with Dravid for the 5th wicket that took India past 600. India declared on the final day before Harbhajan Singh’s heroics – a 6-wicket haul – handed India a historic victory by 171 runs.
#2 India vs Australia, Mohali Test, 2010
Although nine years had passed since the Kolkata miracle, the ‘Laxman effect’ was still at its best. He continued to do what he is best at – drag India out of the mire during a crisis.
Unlike the Kolkata Test, Laxman’s job was not to pile up the runs. He had a task to stick around as he watched wickets fall at the other end at regular intervals. It was a perfectly scripted game for the Aussies. India had ended day 4 at 55 for 4 and they still needed 161 runs for a victory.
The Australian pacers started afresh on the final day and India lost another four wickets for 48 runs. First Ishant Sharma shared a partnership of 81 runs with Laxman for the ninth wicket before Pragyan Ojha and Laxman completed one of the greatest comebacks in cricket.
The duo added the required 11 runs and helped India win the match by one wicket.
#3 Pakistan vs India, Lahore, 2004
Although Laxman was a Test specialist throughout his 16-year-long international career, he did make his presence felt even in the limited-overs format. The ODI series between India and Pakistan was level at 2-2 and the decider was played at Lahore’s Gaddafi Stadium.
Laxman’s Player of the Match knock of 107 off 104 balls helped India post 293 runs on the board.
The match was memorable because the Hyderabad batsman, being more of a Test player, surprisingly took on the Pakistani bowlers and made use of his flexible wrists to smash 11 boundaries. A collective effort from the Indian bowlers later bundled Pakistan out for 253, handing India the ODI series.
#4 New Zealand vs India, Ahmedabad, 2010
Dravid and Virender Sehwag’s centuries in the first innings gave India a great start in the match as the hosts posted 487 runs. The Black Caps replied with an equally strong performance as they managed 459 runs.
On day 4, with a lead of just 28, India were expected to bat out the day and end the final day with no trouble. However, Chris Martin and co. had other plans for the Indians and the visitors suddenly found themselves in a miserable position at 15 for 5.
Unsurprisingly, Laxman stepped up and this time, he had a new partner in Harbhajan Singh. They shared an excellent partnership of 163 runs for the seventh wicket and took India from 65 for 6 to 228 for 7.
While Harbhajan batted flamboyantly with 11 boundaries and three sixes, Laxman was calm and composed as always. However, Bhajji stole Laxman’s thunder with a superb 115 runs off 193 balls. More importantly, India escaped a thumping defeat in their backyard.
#5 Australia vs India, Brisbane, 2004
Laxman’s career’s best knocks have been against the Australians. Be it in Tests or ODIs, Laxman became Australia’s nemesis. There is no player till date that has been able to disappoint the Kangaroos as much as Laxman has done.
Apart from Tests, he has his finest ODI numbers against the same opposition; out of six ODI hundreds, four were against the Aussies.
It was the fifth match of the VB Series 2004 that also included Zimbabwe. Laxman was forced to come out to bat just after seven overs following Ganguly’s early dismissal. He then shared 100+ partnerships with Tendulkar and Dravid and remained unbeaten on 103, taking India past 300. India ended up winning the match by 19 runs.