VVS Laxman and the under-rated art of playing with the Tail

In 2010, when Australia toured India for a Test series, India was neck-deep in troubles during the 4th innings. Laxman was in no condition to play as his back troubles pestered him again, he had already batted at the 9th position in the previous innings. India had 140 runs to score to win that match when Zaheer, who was promoted up, walked back, and Laxman, who was supposed to sit out, volunteered to bat. He was simply rotating the strike letting Sachin bat when a mistimed shot got the better of Sachin. Now, Dhoni had walked in and all Laxman had to do was give Dhoni the strike. Another mistake led to Dhoni being run out.

With 96 runs to win and an injured Laxman batting with a helpless tail, the Aussies were ready for their victory march. Harbhajan too departed leaving India stranded at 124/8. Ishant came in to bat and he was welcomed by an ever-smiling Laxman who chatted with him for a minute. Ishant was a bad batsman back then, by his own admission. But that day was different, he timed the ball for good fours and rotated the strike flawlessly.

Embed from Getty Images

With only 11 runs to win, Ishant departed. Ojha, who couldn’t even score a run in his wildest dreams, walked in. He scored 5 runs worth gold and India won the match with a wicket to spare. Laxman remained not out at 73 with a strike-rate of 92.40 and a worse back pain to his credit.

Embed from Getty Images

This might be an unusual victory for any other team in the world, as it is very rare that the tailenders save the match. But for India, it was a common sight. As long as India had VVS Laxman batting with the tail, India had no reason to worry.

In 2009 when India was reduced to 148/7 against South Africa, VVS stitched a 70-run stand for the eighth wicket with Zaheer Khan which won the game for India.

If we wind our clocks back by another year, there comes another match-saving partnership with the tail. VVS Laxman was involved in another crucial partnership of 79 runs with RP Singh which helped India win the match by 72 runs.

When Irfan Pathan’s credentials as an all-rounder in Tests were being questioned, Laxman made a partnership of 125 runs for the seventh-wicket with him and immediately after the match, he went to the press and said:

I have seen Pathan grow up as a cricketer. It’s really to see that he has worked on his batting lately. I must really congratulate him for the hard work that he put in the nets.

He has become more mature now. I am very impressed by him; he just concentrates on improving as a cricketer

Those were words of gold for a youngster coming from his senior teammate and Irfan did improve his batting from that series onwards.

And one his most memorable batting with the tail would definitely be the one on which he batted with Harbhajan Singh. With 6 wickets gone for a mere 65 runs, Laxman was left to bat with Harbhajan Singh who was known for his quick-fire innings. But that day, he had to stay and bat for a long time in order to save the match. And he did it! Harbhajan played a patient knock with Laxman on the other in a crucial partnership of 163 runs. Once Laxman departed, Harbhajan went on to make his maiden century.

Embed from Getty Images

At the end of the match, Harbhajan said:

A big thanks to Laxman, without whom I would not have scored this. Laxman was tapping my shoulder after every over, it was great to have him there. Because of him only, I got those runs.

That was Laxman. He was very encouraging. He tried boosting the confidence of the tailenders when they batted and always ran up to them to give his words of advice. Unlike other players who would hoard the strike while batting with the tail, he actually gave chances to the tail to bat when he felt they could do it.

And that would add mountains to the confidence of the players batting with him. The bowlers felt like batsmen that day.

It is not surprising that he has played the most with the tail among all the Indian players. But, the fact that he himself averages close to 40 while batting with the tail and has an average partnership of a little over 20 per wicket with the tail is worth mentioning. Also, he has 10 partnerships of 50+ runs, 3 with Kumble and 2 each with Zaheer and Ishant.

Embed from Getty Images

Once when asked about batting with Laxman, Anil Kumble said:

Laxman would allow me as a batsman to take the center-stage when we were batting together. He would not shy away from taking my advice on his batting. That is the quality of legends.

He used to sit with the then coach John Wright on improving the batting of the tailenders and making them more reliable batsmen. They’d make strategies for each bowler to shape up as a reliable batsmen.

We (John and Laxman) made it a point that each batsman in the team would become a batting coach and a batting partner to one bowler. For me, it was Zaheer Khan. We (the batsmen) had to make sure that after each net session we gave a throw down to the bowlers so they can improve on their skills. Working as a family is very important. and then I also used to have a chat with them saying they were very good. So when the challenges started coming by especially against good bowling attacks, I used to give them strike to show my belief and trust their ability. And I used to tell them you are capable of scoring runs. Communication is very important.

I’ll give you one instance this was with RP Singh at Perth in 2008. There was Shaun Tait who was the quickest in Australia. Then there was Brett Lee. Mitchell Johnson. As soon as I came in asked RP are you comfortable facing these bowlers and he told me he can face everyone except Brett Lee. So, whenever the other bowlers were bowling it was just like a normal partnership with the frontline batsman. But the moment Brett Lee, I took all the strike. And Ultimately RP got 31 runs off that 60-ish partnership.

Batting with the tailenders is an art, a highly underrated one. And VVS deserves to be applauded for acing that art like none other did.

Featured Image: BCCI/Twitter

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *