VVS Laxman, Suresh Raina and Pragyan Ojha: the trio that kept a rampaging Australia at bay and helped India pull off a sensational one-wicket win. (Getty Images)
New Delhi: VVS Laxman was a thorn in Australia's side since the first time he faced them in Test cricket, and when he retired, no doubt a lot of Aussies would have sighted a sigh of relief. The stylish batsman from Hyderabad, known for his silken strokeplay with rubber wrists, finished his Test career with an average of 49.67 against Australia, courtesy 2434 runs in 29 matches.
While Laxman will forever be synonymous with India's epic Eden Gardens win with that heroic 281, he did play several other gems against the Australians. One of those was an unbeaten 73 off 79 balls at Mohali in 2010, an innings which took India to a dramatic and magnificent finish to the first Test. On a dramatic final day, India had slipped from 76 for 4 to 124 for 8 but Ishant Sharma (31) stood up to be counted in an 81-run partnership for the ninth wicket with Laxman, before Ojha survived to help seal an exhilarating win. Laxman's contribution, at the age of 35 and with a stiff back, was invaluable and left Australia dazed at how he had again duped them.
Ahead of Thursday's third Test at Mohali, let's recap that unforgettable final day's play:
Australia needed six wickets on the final day and got four of them quite quickly, but then had to wait a long time for the fifth. From an overnight 55 for 4, India lost Zaheer Khan (10) to Nathan Hauritz, thus bringing Laxman to the crease. Laxman had batted at No. 10 in the first innings due to a stiff back and was still experiencing pain when he joined Sachin Tendulkar in the middle.
Soon, Tendulkar (38) fell to Doug Bollinger, poking a catch to gully off a well-directed short ball. India were 119 for 6. MS Dhoni did not last long before committing hara-kiri with Laxman's runner Suresh Raina, and Harbhajan Singh faced two balls edging Bollinger into the slips. Now India were 124 for 8, with only Ishant and Ojha left.
Following Bollinger's two-wicket burst, India found remarkable resistance from Ishant, who stubbornly batted 106 minutes and 92 balls. India needed 92 to win from the time Harbhajan fell, and got 81 of them through Laxman and Ishant. Laxman led the way with some attractive fours, the best of which was a pull off Ben Hilfenhaus for four to reach his 46th Test fifty and reduce the target to 50. Ishant followed with two boundaries off Mitchell Johnson as the lead was trimmed to 32.
Ishant was harshly adjudged lbw when 11 runs were needed; replays showed the ball from Hilfenhaus would have missed leg stump. Ishant had hit five fours in his stellar effort, but looked despondent as he left the field. Laxman at this stage was batting on 69 off 69 balls, laced with eight boundaries.
The dramatic finale
Stunningly, Laxman managed to see India home in the company of the last man, Ojha (5*). He changed tactics after Ishant's dismissal, instead choosing to protect Ojha from Johnson. There was another moment of madness when Ojha harried off down the pitch without looking at the runner, which resulted in an earful from the normally restrained Laxman.
In Johnson's 17th over, Ojha looked to have been struck in line with middle and leg. However, Billy Bowden turned down the appeal and to make matters worse for Australia, Steven Smith throw at the stumps went for four overthrows. The target of 216 was achieved half an hour before tea, when a pair of leg-byes were scampered by Ojha and Raina, the runner. The entire Indian dressing room was cleared in seconds and India's two heroes engulfed by the whole team.
What they said
"I think sometimes these situations get the best out of me, from the mental point of view. Mentally I have always relished these situations. Always think right from my younger days, I really want to do well in such situations. If I don't do well, I feel really bad and that I have let the team down. I keep discussing with my coaches that I should be in the same mind frame when the going is easy also." - Laxman
"VVS was really remarkable in this match. He helped the team overcome a batting collapse. Laxman remained at the crease, hit boundaries, rotated the strike and kept the scoreboard moving all the time. For me, it was a very special innings by Laxman." - MS Dhoni
"Even with that [bad back] today he showed what sort of class player he is. He has been a bit of a thorn in our side; there's no doubt about that. I guess him and Sachin [Tendulkar] would be the two who've done the most damage over the years, a couple of guys who've played a lot against us and have got good records against us. I hope his back's pretty sore for next week as well and he can't play." - Ricky Ponting
"Everyone was nervous in the dressing room; we tried to remain calm and hoped that the two batters would gets us through." - Zaheer Khan
Where do you think VVS Laxman's unbeaten 73 ranks in his all-time best innings?