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Why West Indies love to hate Laxman

In a team full of aspiring and inspiring young blood, VVS' experience could hold the key, writes Atul Sondhi.

india Updated: May 14, 2006 17:16 IST

In his long and chequered career, VVS Laxman has seen disappointments galore. So many times, faced with selectors' wrath and public criticism, this Very Very Special Laxman could have easily been Very Very Sulking indeed. And not a single soul would have blamed him for that.

However, to his credit, this batsman with sublime skills has not allowed the disappointments to get to him. Failures have only spurred the gladiator in him and some of Laxman's tremendous efforts are today part of the cricketing folklore.

The chance is, Laxman could once again be the key in the West Indies. Former Indian captain Gundappa Vishwanath recently made it clear in as many words that Laxman would be the key when India would make another attempt to win their second Test series in the Caribbean in three and a half decades.

And surely the reason for Vishwanath's support for elegant Hyderabadi is not just the supple wrist work of Laxman, the kind of what Vishwanath showed in the sixties and the seventies.

Laxman's blade has no rough edges

It is surprising that while Indians tend to fall in love with Laxman for his exploits against the Australians, they almost forget what Laxman is capable of against the West Indies. In fact, against the West Indies, VVS has performed better than against any other nation with a staggering 60-plus average.

Laxman's favourite opponents

 Opponents

Matches 

 Runs

Average 

100s 

50s 

 WI

 12

 917

 61.13

 2

 6

 Australia

 16

 1457

 52.03

 4

 6

 NZ

 04

 306

 51.00

 1

 2


So Laxman's blade does not have rough edges when faced with the once dominant super-power of world cricket.

From Opening blues to powering the middle order

The incomparable VVS has been the architect of many a battle against the West Indies. After a dismal first few years when he was saddled with the opening slot, simply because such a brilliant player could not have been kept away from the team, Laxman has really flourished in the middle order. Nothing illustrates better than his performance against the West Indies where he was a flop as an opener, but on top once he was put in the middle order.

Laxman against the West Indies (In various positions)   

 Position

 Matches

 Runs

Average 

 100s

 50s

 Opening

 4

 172

 28.7

 0

 2

 6th

 8

 745

 82.8

 2

 4


An average of 82 against the West Indies at number six must be one of the best in the cricketing history. To put it in perspective, Laxman's overall career average as number six batsman is almost half —  just about 44.

So, India will bank on Laxman to keep up the good work.

Where to play Laxman

Unlike in the last series in the Caribbean when Laxman had to play as number six batsman after openers, Dravid, Sachin and Sourav, he will be expected to steer India little higher up the order.

Considering Laxman's record in positions where he has played ten or more innings, he is ideally suited as number three batsman. If Sachin Tendulkar is not fit to play, Dravid might even be inclined to use him at two-down slot, where Laxman's three innings have fetched him an average of 86 runs.

Laxman's record in various positions    

 Position

 Innings

 Runs

 Average

 100s

 50s

 Opening

 25

 685

 28.5

 1

 4

 3rd

 20

 996

 52.4

 2

 5

 5th

 19

 721

 45.1

 2

 4

 6th

 44

 1749

 43.7

 3

 11


Unless he is asked to open, Laxman is more than competent at any other position. More so, in the West Indies where India owe their sole Test match success in nearly 25 years to him.

Kingpin of India's sole success

It was after a wait of over two-and-a-half decades, that India tasted their first success on the West Indies soil. The venue, once again, was Port of Spain.

After the drawn first Test against the West Indies at Georgetown where Laxman had fired a half century, India were once against looking for some useful knocks from the middle and lower middle order.

Tendulkar was in his element as he struck a fine hundred, but it was Laxman's superb unbeaten 69, which ensured that India reached a reasonable 1st innings total of 339.

In reply, the hosts were bundled out for 245 thanks to some inspired bowling by Indian pacers spearheaded by Javagal Srinath's 3 for 71.

Despite a handy 1st innings lead of 94, India began shakily and lost four wickets, including Dravid and Tendulkar with just 56 on board.

It was then Laxman stepped in, and  stepped up the tempo. The fifth-wicket partnership of 149 with skipper Ganguly brought the visitors back into the match.

The worth of Laxman's 74 runs and the usefulness of the partnership can be gauged from the fact that after Laxman's dismissal, the next five partnerships contributed just 13 runs to the eventual score of 218. 

Despite West Indies chasing a tough target of 313 to win, India managed to romp home just by 37 runs.

VVS' timely half-centuries in both the innings was the key to this elusive win. Laxman kept up his good form in the series and averaged 79, best among the Indian batting quartet comprising Sachin, Sourav and Dravid

India's top guns against WI in WI (2001-2002)  

 Player

 Innings

 Runs

 Average

 100s

 50s

 Laxman

 8

 474

 79.00

 1

 4

 Dravid

 8

 404

 57.7

 1

 2

 Ganguly

 8

 322

 53.7

 0

 2

 Tendulkar

 8

 331

 41.4

 1

 2


If Sourav Ganguly is not chosen, and Sachin Tendulkar fails to recover in time, Laxman will be one of the three pillars sustaining India's challenge in the West Indies. And on past form, the Hyderabadi will be the most critical link with India desperately looking for their second series win over the West Indies after 1971.