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DTH News : Eden 2001, Durban 2010: the decade of VVS
New Delhi: During the 18-day Kurukshetra war in the epic Mahabharata, Pandava prince Arjuna and his charioteer and guide Lord Krishna were engaged in a battlefield discussion about - to put it simplistically - the how and the why of war and the people involved in it. Krishna counselled Arjuna on the greater idea of dharma, or universal harmony and duty and the path advised was that of devotional service, action, meditation and knowledge.

Arjuna, who had wished to abandon the battle, was warned that without action, the cosmos would fall out of order. At the turn of the millenium, stood an Australian team that had vanquished all. They were undoubtedly the rampaging champions, a reminder of the Bradmanesque 'invincibles' and a side that had made cricket look like a one-horse race. The cricketing cosmos had become Australia's domain and it was imperative to restore some order.

Much has been said about how Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman has, according to his namesake - Lord Rama's brother in the epic Ramayana - played a supporting role to India's trinity of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly despite all his heroism. But Laxman is the Arjuna that the team needed to pierce the eye of the fish time and again looking at the bowl of water. Without him no battle could have been won, no frontier could have been defended, no order in world cricket could have been restored.

It is befitting that India's Test win at Durban against South Africa on Wednesday has come off the back of yet another scintillating display off Laxman's blade. True, it takes 20 wickets to win a Test match, but had VVS, who cruelly missed out on his 17th Test century by four runs on Tuesday, not scored that invaluable 96 the bowlers would not have had enough to defend. And so VVS ends this decade almost the way he started it, with a knock full of service, devotion and action.

His first Test hundred came against Australia on January 4, 2000 at the Sydney Cricket Ground where he hit 167 in the second innings. Ganguly was the second highest scorer. He made 25. Australia won the match by an innings and 141 runs and wrapped up the series 3-0.

Just over a year later, Australia toured India in an attempt to win the final frontier. And despite skipper Ganguly's toughspeak, India were staring down the barrel when they lost the Mumbai Test inside three days and were then asked to follow on at the Eden Gardens. The Prince of Kolkata was on the verge of being humbled at home. What unfolded was a fightback of heroic proportions. Records fell by the wayside as VVS hit that epic 281 to restore Indian pride as the team became only the third in the history of cricket to win a Test after being forced to follow on.

There was nothing that could stop Laxman at the Eden Gardens. He was a picture of poise and confidence and seemed to be in such a meditative state right through. Absolutley nothing could break him. He was such a picture of resoluteness that even the Spartans would have been proud of him.

That one knock catapulted VVS to the collective consciousness of the cricketing world and the Wisden listed it as the sixth best Test knock ever. There was no turning back ever since as he became a permanent fixture in India's Test middle order and amassed runs against every opposition. But Laxman's greatest contribution to the game continued to be the manner in which he reserved his best for the toughest teams, the Aussies coming in for some special attention.

The 2003-04 series Down Under was when India truly started to emerge as the next best Test playing nation in the scheme of things. And again it was VVS, who set the tone for the change with two knocks that changed the face of Indian cricket. At the Adelaide Oval, he smacked a beautiful 148 at a time when all hope had been lost again. India went on to win that game. The Hyderabadi didn't stop at that. In Steve Waugh farewell's Test in January, 2004 at Sydney, VVS stepped up and hit 178. Waugh had to call it a day having had to settle for a draw.

It was quite clear who answered India's prayers in the second innings of a Test match every time the side found itself in more than just a spot of bother. It didn't matter what the venue was, who the opposition were, which bowler was bowling to him. All that he did was time the ball, find the gaps. It was as simple as that.

He also made the batsmen at the other end feel comfortable. Tailender after tailender contributed with the bat every time Laxman stood with them, shepherding them, guiding them, inspiring them, sometimes even goading them. But he made sure that they knew always that he was not going to desert them.

Only twice have India lost a Test in which Laxman has hit a century. And in even those where he hasn't, he's been the man to have anchored an innings and taken it to safety, just like he did in Durban on Tuesday.

But Laxman's contribution to the game as we mentioned earlier was not India's gain alone. He gave the belief to a cricketing world that had bowed in submission to the Aussies that it was possible to stand up and fight.

No greater admission of it could have come when the English newspapers wrote about Laxman's glorious half-century knock in the second innings of the Mohali Test against Australia this October. Not only did he again lead India to an incredible win, the English papers noted, but that the England cricket team could win the Ashes if only they took a leaf out of VVS's book while facing the Aussies.

England's win over Australia in the Melbourne Test earlier this morning, which helped them retain the Ashes after 24 years, is testimony to the correction of the cosmic order in cricket that Laxman had started at the beginning of the decade. And it was only befitting that he too end the year and the decade on a winning note.
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