Hyderabad: It’s been 17 years since he’s played the best innings in Indian cricket but the 10-and-a-half hour tussle during which he battered a bustling Australia on March 14, 2001 to turn the Test and subsequently the series on its head, is ‘still fresh’ in V.V.S. Laxman’s memory. As a ‘pleasant coincidence,’ the Big Bat was at the Eden Gardens in Kolkata, immersed in video analysis of the Bengal boys as the batting consultant of Cricket Association of Bengal.
Rewind: Following on after folding for 171 against Australia’s first innings total of 445, India rode on Laxman’s 281, Rahul Dravid’s 180 and their 376-run partnership for the fifth wicket to reply with an incredible 657/7 declared and then bowled out the visitors for 212 (courtesy Harbhajan Singh’s 6/73) in their second innings to script an improbable 171-run win to level the three-match series, before clinching it with a two-wicket in the Chennai Test to follow.
“It’s still fresh in my memory — not only me, but everyone who was part of that Test match can never ever forget it, because it taught us a valuable life lesson of never giving up, whatever the situation,” Laxman told this newspaper on Wednesday.
“Not only in sport but in life too we come across situations that are very tough. You feel that the challenge is too tough to be overcome. When you hang in there, accept the problem, device a solution, you will unlock the situation — that’s what we realised during that Test match,” the Hyderabadi added.
That feat changed the psyche of the Indian cricketer for good.
“The good thing is there were similar situations in games though their magnitude did not match the one at Eden Gardens. We employed the same formula and carried on — sometimes we achieved good results and sometimes we couldn’t, but we knew how to deal with difficult circumstances,” Laxman added.
The best bouquet? “Shane Warne (legendary Australian spinner) saying he didn’t bowl bad, meant I was scoring off the good deliveries as well. That’s the kind of compliment that you always remember.”
The accolades continue to pour in. “When people walk up to you and say ‘you’ve done a good job of serving the country and saved the team from a possible loss,’ it feels very good. A lot of them from different walks of life have come up to me and said watching that match changed their approach towards life,” Laxman said.
“I go for motivational talks among Corporates where I meet people who tell me that they have been inspired by that innings while going through difficulties in their lives. It’s so nice to hear that. I received one letter that I will never forget. She wrote ‘after watching that match and the series, thanks to you I was able to address the biggest challenge I was going through in my life at that moment.’ Such lines are heartening,” Laxman said, adding, “It made me realise that we as cricketers unknowingly inspire and encourage people. Our success rubs off on others.”
Do his children — son Sarvajit and daughter Achinthya — understand the enormity of the feat? “No,” is the answer. “Me and my wife consciously try not to tell them about what I did. We try to bring up our kids in a very normal way. However, about one-and-a-half year ago, a classmate of his told my son at school that I had scored 281 against Australia. That’s when he came to know of the innings, and watched it later on YouTube,” Laxman laughs, keeping his head high and feet firmly on ground.