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Laxman's success fails to halt his Hyderabad hurt

It's easy to make enemies in Hyderabad. Just walk down the street, any street, and ask somebody, ask anybody, where Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman was on March 23, 2003.

india Updated: Jan 30, 2004 02:38 IST
Reuters
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PTI

It's easy to make enemies in Hyderabad.

Just walk down the street, any street, and ask somebody, ask anybody, where Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman was on March 23, 2003.

At best, the query will be met with a glacial stare (if glacial stares are possible in southern India) and, at worst, with a sharp punch to the nose.

The answer, of course, is that Laxman was not at The Wanderers, and not playing in the World Cup final.

The decision to leave the elegant right-hander out of the World Cup squad -- instead he was packed off on an India A tour to West Indies -- seemed questionable at the time.

Today it must rank among the greatest selectorial gaffes of all time.

India's wise men had opted instead for Dinesh Mongia, who came back from the World Cup with an average of 20, scored at a pedestrian strike rate, with the further contribution of a few overs of unspectacular left-arm spin.

The team cruised magnificently to the final but, when the going got tough, India got nowhere, imploding instead against the mighty Australians by a ghastly 125 runs.

Laxman does not like to dwell on the matter.

Asked about his cup omission by The Observer newspaper, he replied: "It really hurts, still hurts, and some of the pain will stay with me for the rest of my career."

There has at least been some degree of revenge.

The man from Hyderabad, gifted with fluid wrist joints and an ability to hit a cricket ball preposterously late and on the up, has repeatedly taken out his frustrations on Brett Lee and the other Australian bowlers.

Laxman, indeed, is remarkable among batsmen in that he seems to relish playing against the world's best side.

His miraculous Indian record of 281 against Australia in 2001 set a tone which has continued in recent months.

In his last test innings against them he harvested 178, meaning that four of Laxman's five highest test scores have come off Australian bowlers.

EXTRAORDINARY PATTERN

Four of his five one-day hundreds have also come against the same opposition, including two in his last three visits to the crease.

In test cricket, Laxman averages a shade over 47 but against Australia, he scores 63.52 a visit. In one-dayers, his overall average is 33.08 but against the World Cup winners it is 54.53.

That pattern is truly extraordinary.

Sachin Tendulkar, Brian Lara and Rahul Dravid do well against the world champions, but no better than they do against all other sides.

South Africans Jacques Kallis and Herschelle Gibbs in particular, as well as Pakistan's Inzamam-ul-Haq, have never lived up to their batting billing against Australia.

Gibbs's test average is 49.12 but he only scores 32.38 per visit against the men wearing the Baggy Green.

Only England captain Michael Vaughan comes close to matching Laxman.

The 29-year-old Indian, who spent much of his early career in and out of the team as the selectors fretted over his inconsistency, next plays Australia on Sunday in Perth, seeking a third consecutive one-day century.

Only three men have ever achieved the feat before.

The odds are almost in favour, if you listen to Tendulkar.

Batting with Laxman in the fourth test in Sydney last month, Tendulkar scored 241 not out to his partner's 178 but he was in no doubt which innings merited centre-stage.

"It was a treat to watch," Tendulkar said. "I certainly wasn't going to try what he was doing."

Another century on Sunday and the population of Hyderabad will celebrate in the streets, while former India World Cup selectors will remain behind locked doors, refusing all calls.