Ever reliable troubleshooter

Ever reliable troubleshooter

Thrice in his last three Tests, the Hyderabadi stylist has been Mahendra Singh Dhoni’s go-to man. In August, he braved back spasms to construct a memorable unbeaten century and power India to a series-levelling triumph against Sri Lanka at the P Sara stadium in Colombo. Last month, alongside Ishant Sharma, he again made light of back spasms to pull off a mini-miracle as India scaled down 216 against Australia despite being 124 for eight, Laxman’s contribution a special 73 not out.

On Monday, at the Sardar Patel Gujarat stadium, Laxman – and the whole cricketing world – knew he stood between New Zealand and a charge for victory. For nearly six hours, seemingly without a care in the world, he defied everything the Kiwis threw at him, and did so with style and panache, the smile on his face showing how much he relished the challenge.

There was no hint of pressure, no sign of nerves, no fear or tension. The 36-year-old was calm and composed, treating each ball on its merit and embracing a natural leadership role by talking the excitable Harbhajan Singh too into maintaining his concentration.

There are some players who thrive under pressure; others get cowed down and freeze. No prizes for guessing which category Laxman belongs to. It takes some ability and character to coax and cajole the tail into performing above itself. Laxman is a master at marshalling the tail’s resources, not so much by shielding them and farming the strike as by taking whatever runs are on offer, and instilling confidence in his partners by allowing them an equal share of the bowling.

Few men can match his numbers in the third innings of a Test match. As opposed to a career average of 47.63 – constantly on the upswing in recent times – he averages 58.13 in 45 knocks in the third innings, with four centuries and a massive 13 half-centuries to boot.

Amongst them is his epochal 281 at the Eden Gardens in 2001 when he batted at number three, but several of his knocks have come at five and six, often with only the lower-order for company. It’s no exaggeration to say that there is no man more adept at batting with the tail in world cricket than VVS Laxman, as Harbhajan readily agreed after conjuring his maiden Test ton.

“A lot of credit for my hundred goes to Laxman,” Harbhajan acknowledged. “He was advising me how to play, what shots to play and what shots not to play on this pitch. He told me to not to play on-the-up shots. That helped me a lot.”

New Zealand skipper Daniel Vettori was equally effusive. “Laxman just did what he always does -- he scores runs,” Vettori said with a rueful sile. “The good players play the same way, no matter what the situation. That's half the battle when you walk out under pressure. He knows his game. He puts the bad balls away and defends good balls.

Anyone with that sort of experience and talent, when they come to the middle, you know it's going to be difficult.” Difficult for the opposition, heartening for his team-mates.  And his millions of fans. A first home Test beckons later this week. What does Laxman have in store there?

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