India’s go-to man in adversity, champion batsman V.V.S. Laxman, is determined to clinch exciting Test victories in the challenging new season as he heads into the home stretch of his long and distinguished career.
India will play three Test series in three continents this year in what is expected to test their No. 1 Test ranking status. India will play three Tests in the West Indies: The first starts 20 June, after the ongoing five-match One Day series (the last match is on 16 June). Laxman, 36, has been named vice-captain of a depleted Indian squad for the West Indies Test series—Sachin Tendulkar, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag will be missing from the team led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni.
The Indian team will then head to England for four Tests, followed by a limited-overs series that extends till 16 September. India, which won the One Day World Cup in April after 28 years, will travel on a full tour of Australia at the end of the year for a series that is being billed as Tendulkar’s last Down Under.
V.V.S. Laxman. Getty Images
“It’s going to be a challenging year,” Laxman says. “We are going to play three top teams in their backyards and that’s never easy. It’s important to take each series as it comes. It’s not ideal to look too far ahead. The priority for us now is the West Indies series.”
India won a Test series on Caribbean soil after a gap of 35 years on their previous tour in 2006. Skipper Rahul Dravid hit 81 and 68 to help win the final Test by 49 runs to clinch a 1-0 victory in the four-match series after Laxman struck a sensational 100 and 63 to help draw the third Test at St Kitts.
“The biggest challenge in international cricket is to adapt,” says Laxman, about the forthcoming season that will see India move from the humidity and low bounce of the Caribbean to the cold weather and swinging pitches of England before heading to the bouncy tracks of Australia.
“We have done well overseas in the past and we are under no pressure to prove ourselves over and over again. The smart thing to do is to keep the pressure at a minimum and continue to do the things that we did to reach the top of the Test rankings,” adds the veteran of 120 Tests.
“If we continue doing that, and play to our potential, I can’t see why we cannot win. We need to prepare ourselves and take it match by match, Test by Test, series by series.”
Several former international stalwarts, notably England’s Ian Botham, have raised doubts about whether India have the mettle to hold on to their top ranking in Tests given that they reached the top spot during a period when they predominantly played at home.
“As a team, we don’t play to prove or disprove others—we just focus on doing well as a unit,” says Laxman, who has scored 7,903 runs since his debut in 1996.
India won a Test series on English soil after 21 years on their previous tour in 2007. They won the three-match series 1-0 after winning the second Test at Nottingham by seven wickets and drawing the final Test at Kennington Oval.
“We have the potential and the desire to succeed, to remain the No. 1 side in the world,” Laxman says. “Every overseas series is invariably a difficult one for the visiting side. Take, for example, last year. We did well in Sri Lanka and South Africa. We won a crucial Test in both the countries and did not lose the series.”
Laxman played three defining knocks, displaying pristine stroke play that pulled India out of trouble and to victory against Sri Lanka, Australia and South Africa. He overcame the pain to score an unbeaten 103 in Colombo in August and, although his back trouble erupted again—he was on painkillers—the stylish batsman struck 73 not out to lead India to a one-wicket win in the opening Test against Australia in Mohali in October.
In December, Laxman hit 38 and 96 to help India win the second Test in Durban by 87 runs. India eventually drew the three-Test series 1-1.
“Personally, I consider every match I play for India as a great honour,” says Laxman. “I just want to continue the consistency I have shown over the years. Playing crucial knocks to win or save matches for India gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I hope to contribute to the team and in tough situations play and win matches for my country.
“Looking back at last year, it gives me great joy to have been able to contribute in crunch situations. I am proud of what the team, and owing to that I, have achieved. The team showed character and commitment to bounce back from difficult situations,” he adds.
Laxman’s best has always come against Australia. In 2001, he scored a then Indian Test record 281 in Kolkata, rallying the team to victory after being asked to follow on. That ended Australia’s record of 16 Test wins in a row and also sparked a comeback series triumph.
That knock also earned him the sobriquet “Very Very Special” as he formed India’s feared middle-order along with Dravid, Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly for most part of the decade. Six of Laxman’s 16 centuries have come against Australia, including a second double century on their 2008 visit to India. He is asked about it often, and he has a practised answer for it: “They bring the best out of me,” says Laxman.
The Hyderabad batsman says scoring a century in England is a dream that he hopes to realize on this visit. “I came close to it, scoring 50s and 70s, but never converted them,” he says, referring to his top score of 74 at Lord’s in 2002. “I’d love to get a century at Lord’s and help India win a Test there.”
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