There are times you hold your breath, waiting for something special to happen, willing it to happen. Then there are agonising moments when you hold your breath, willing something not to happen. These are times when there’s a heightened awareness of whatever’s going on; when, for a while, one person becomes the focus of your world.
It happened on Thursday, for the time V.V.S. Laxman batted. Watching Laxman bat at his best is just like rediscovering something special, something you haven’t seen in a while but you know is out there, somewhere.
It’s always a highly emotional experience, it’s exciting, it’s maddening, it keeps you guessing and it’s always, always unforgettable.
In Wally good company
On another dramatic day of cricket in this second Test, Laxman joined the legendary Wally Hammond in becoming only the second non-Australian ever to score three centuries at the SCG.
Hammond had four in successive Tests and if the 33-year-old Laxman is able to keep going for another few years, body willing, there is no reason to believe he cannot match Hammond’s feat from some 80 years ago. This incidentally, was his fifth hundred against the world champions.
“It does feel good,” the Hyderabadi said of his knock. “It’s always satisfying to do well against the best side in the game, and it is no different now. I am pleased that I have been able to do it consistently, and in tough situations. I have always enjoyed playing against the Australians. It was a great learning experience to just see them play before I started playing for India - they are a great bunch of cricketers to learn from.”
Been there, done that
Laxman looked far more confident playing here than when he was at the MCG last week, and soon after stumps, he attributed that confidence to being more comfortable with the ground conditions and the “more even bounce” at the SCG wicket.
“Coming back to a ground where you have done well before and got a couple of hundreds gives you a big boost. You know how the wicket will behave, the conditions are pretty familiar,” he said.
But, just like love stories inexplicably cut short, Laxman’s tryst with Sydney on Thursday had a rather anticlimactic ending. Six minutes after the faithful Dravid’s departure, he tamely mistimed Hogg to a delighted Hussey at short cover.
He and Dravid had added 175 for the second wicket before first Dravid, and then he, fell in quick succession. Given the way they were going, and given their track record together and against the Aussies, it was a shame to have them both go just about half-an-hour before stumps.
Laxman agreed. “I was disappointed to be dismissed when I was. Rahul had fallen in the earlier over. I would have loved to have been not out at the end of the day and carry on tomorrow.”
“I was playing each ball on its merit. It was a good wicket to bat on. You could play through the line, there was value for your shots,” said Laxman, who continued playing with a “bad blister” in his heel. “I wish I hadn’t been dismissed, but I was deceived in flight (by Brad Hogg). It was just an error in judgment, not a lapse in concentration.”
India would have desperately wanted him to carry on to, not just because he was playing with confidence and seemed to have the bowlers’ measure but also because while he was there, the Australian attack seemed in a rare, unnerved mood. As they invariably are when V.V.S. is batting.
More often than not, Laxman, under constant pressure at home to retain his place in the squad, and frustratingly erratic, given his genius, comes into his own when Australia are around.
Incidentally, he was asked after the game whether he felt he had not gotten his due in India. He refused to get into it, simply saying, “I have a great opportunity to play for the country. I don’t think about the adulation. It’s all about going out and doing your duty, my aim is to fulfil the responsibility assigned to me.”
On Thursday, he did just that. Ever so often, the Australian fielders watched with resignation as yet another caressed drive from his willow glided to the fence. It was as much passion as fluid grace, a dance so familiar, yet one no one else seems to be able to manage with quite the same authority.
While it lasted, his innings was sublime. If India and the batsmen who follow need to look anywhere for hope or inspiration, all they need to do is replay this day in their heads. When, for a few exhilarating hours, one man made the Aussies look so very human.