It’s becoming difficult to keep count of the match-winning and match-saving knocks that flow incessantly from VVS Laxman’s willow. While the awe of his spectacular efforts in Colombo, Mohali and Ahmedabad, the recent chapters in the long tale of resistance and resilience, is yet to wear off, he added another sparkling gem to the collection on Tuesday.
One wouldn't know before Wednesday if his spectacular 96 is good enough for India to win the Test, but it certainly pulled the visitors out from the depths of despair and propelled them to a position where they have a chance to win their first Test in Durban and stay alive in the series. With South Africa three down for 111, chasing a stiff 303 when bad light stopped the play, India have every reason to stay hopeful of pulling it off.
Hope, however, was in extremely short supply when Laxman walked out to bat with Cheteshwar Pujara in the morning. With as many as 18 wickets falling the previous day, it was never going to be easy to survive the refreshed Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel. With Pujara falling in the second over of the day, India's hopes of posting a stiff target appeared to fade fast.
But these are the situations Laxman relishes, and he soon got down to business, forcing the advancing South African attack to retreat. The spectators, who would move to the edge of the seat in anticipation as the bowlers steamed in, finally sat back to enjoy Laxman’s artistry against a classy attack in testing conditions.
As if often the case, the calm and composure he exudes in pressure cooker situations rubs off on the tail-enders as well, and they tend to play out of their skins. While Ishant Sharma and Harbhajan Singh rose to the occasion in Mohali and Ahmedabad, this time it was Zaheer Khan who put his hand up and shared an invaluable 70-run partnership with him.
The only disheartening aspect of the knock was that Laxman couldn't convert it into a hundred. He attempted a desperate slash, perhaps the only ungainly stroke he played, against Steyn to reach the milestone, and ended up edging it to the wicketkeeper.
Laxman sounded disappointed. “It would have been really nice to get that hundred. It would have been my first in South Africa. But any knock that helps the team do well is always special,” he said.
Nevertheless, the knock gave India the platform from where they could fight for victory. The 300-plus target would be tough to get on this track, and South Africa realized it by the time play finished.