India's hero of the recently-concluded Durban Test VVS Laxman, turned out to be the most resilient batsman on a challenging wicket. Naturally, the Man of the Match was elated with India's 87-run victory over hosts South Africa and said that his two valuable innings of 38 and 96 in the match ranked "up there" with the best winning knocks of his career.
"If you beat South Africa on definitely the quickest and bounciest wicket in the country, it gives you that much additional joy," Laxman said, a day after the historic occasion. "Everyone talks about Durban being the place where South Africa puts the opposition under pressure. It gives us a lot of satisfaction to have beaten them in these conditions."
Although Laxman accomplished precious little in the first Test against South Africa, at Centurion, contributing a paltry 7 and 8, he seemed to acclimatise to the bounce and pace of the foreign country's strips and hit his stride in the second Test. In the first innings of that encounter, he walkd to the crease at Tendulkar's exit when the visitors were in dire straits at 79/3. But his steady hand guided India partially out of trouble before it took nothing short of a spectacular catch by Lonwabo Tsotsobe at mid off to deprive him from surging ahead. Laxman was out for 38, when he looked good to notch up a century.
But like all classic fighting batsmen, Laxman came back in India's second innings to make amends for his earlier error.After a top order collapse left India reeling at 56/4 in a precious situation, Laxman tightened his boot-straps, pulled up his socks and met the crises head on. Through a deft combination of caution and aggression, he countered the fire of the South African battery adeptly and kept the attack at bay. He showed exceptional character to hold the innings together by scrapping up partnerships with the few remaining batsmen, including a defiant stand of 70 runs with a combative Zaheer Khan.
But he fell just four short of a century when he had obviously run out of partners and didn't have the support to see him through to the landmark. Laxman said the conditions in Durban were the ultimate test of India's batsmen's skill and temperament. "You have got a pace-bowling attack that is one of the best in the world at the moment. Then the conditions were ideal for them, where the ball was seaming, and there was bounce that we are not used to because most of the time we play on subcontinent wickets."
Laxman's unwavering patience, his near-invincible prowess and his flawless technique stood apart from the 11 other specialist batsmen and two wicketkeeper-batsmen on show. One marveled at the manner in which he added so many runs with the tail, as increasingly appears to have become a habit.
"It boils down to the experience and the rapport I share with each one of them," he said of the secret behind his success with the lower order. "It is very important to give them confidence. Luckily, each one of them works on his batting, and they take a lot of pride in their batting and don't want to throw their wicket away."
He might have missed the hundred, but he pointed to something that signified more for him. "I would have liked to get my hundred because I have never got a hundred at Durban," observed Laxman. "(But)you always want to be remembered as somebody who contributed to winning matches for the country."
Laxman also singled out praise for Indian fast bowler Zaheer Khan, indicating that he accorded the team an inexplicable pep and was the definite X-factor behind India's win. "As a team-mate, his presence just lifts us because of the way he helps the other fast bowlers. It's not only that he comes and bowls his quota of overs and keeps quiet, but the way he guides an Ishant Sharma or a Sreesanth while they are bowling is unbelievable. He has been a true match-winner for us over the years."
It is indeed a tremendous feeling that another of India's premier batsmen in Laxman, has seen out the year on a definitive high and with any luck, he'll take this devastating form into 2011 and beyond.