Legends Month

Legends Month: The best of VVS Laxman

As part of Legends Month on Cricket Network, look back on one of VVS Laxman's greatest performances

Adam Burnett

29 May 2018, 01:19 PM AEST

Perhaps more than at any other time before or since, the Australian Test team under Stephen Waugh was a Baggy Green machine.

Waugh took the reins in 1999 from Mark Taylor, a shrewd tactician and a fine batsman whose team reflected his own amiable personality.

The twin, who had fought his way through the miserable 1980s under the tutelage of Allan Border, had a harder edge than Taylor and most players in the game; a ruthless streak running through him that largely defined him as a cricketer. It too, was reflected in his charges.

Under Waugh, and with the ambitious John Buchanan as coach, Australia reached heights of dominance no Test team had scaled previously.

Legends Month: Laxman's brilliant debut ton

Waugh and Buchanan knew what they had at their disposal.

In Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, they had two of the greatest bowlers in history.

In Waugh and his brother Mark, they had a pair of world-class middle-order batsmen.

In Adam Gilchrist, they had just uncovered a revolutionary.

And in Ricky Ponting and Brett Lee, they had two of the most exciting cricketers to hit the Australian scene in decades.

McGrath and Australia dominated the start of the Kolkata Test // Getty
McGrath and Australia dominated the start of the Kolkata Test // Getty

It was the makings of a champion team. One that could be taken to the aforementioned heights. Defeats, and draws for that matter, were simply not an option.

Between August 1999 and February 2001, Australia won 16 straight Tests. The best the great West Indies side of the 1980s had managed was 11 on the trot.

Waugh, with his foot-on-the-throat mentality, had upped the ante with astonishing effect.

So when Australia headed to India and thrashed their hosts by 10 wickets in the first Test in Mumbai, having beaten them three-nil on home soil in the summer of 1999-2000, more of the same was expected 10 days later in Kolkata.

What happened instead was arguably the greatest fightback in Test history.

Laxman pulls during his epic 281 // Getty
Laxman pulls during his epic 281 // Getty

Australia made 445 in their first innings on the back of the skipper's 110 and 97 from Matthew Hayden, however it was teenage spinner Harbhajan Singh who stole the headlines, claiming 7-123 including the first hat-trick in India's Test history.

Yet despite Harbhajan's heroics, Australia continued their momentum from Mumbai, rolling the home side for 171 in reply, McGrath taking 4-18.

Waugh's men looked to be marching irrevocably to a 17th straight Test win, and when the skipper enforced the follow-on and India fell to 3-115 and then 4-232 in their second innings – still trailing by 42 with just six wickets in hand – a series win looked a formality.

Enter VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid.

Laxman and Dravid after batting through the entire day // Getty
Laxman and Dravid after batting through the entire day // Getty

For the next 104 overs, the pair wrested the initiative back from Australia, first slowly, then ever more confidently.

Laxman, a regular tormentor of Australia for a decade, dealt with the spin threat of Warne almost effortlessly, with such timing and elegance that former Test captain Ian Chappell later labelled his performance "the best playing of spin bowling I've seen".

"To have played my part in that (recovery) process, and to have scored consistently heavily against the best bowling attack of my time, against the best team of that era, is a memory I will cherish forever," Laxman later said in an interview with Wisden India.

"During my career, the team was to be in such situations many times later, including in Adelaide in 2003-04.

From the Vault: Dravid's epic double

"We remembered what happened in Kolkata, and the rest, as they say, is history."

Dravid had already built his reputation as 'The Wall' but his form against Australia had been questioned and he'd been dropped to No.6 in the batting order.

Fighting cramps and dehydration, the Indian legend fought for almost eight hours and 353 deliveries, triumphing against Warne, McGrath and co as part of one of Test cricket's great partnerships.

When the two were parted, they'd shared a 376-run stand for the fifth wicket, and put their team 334 runs in front.

Laxman's innings was praised right around the world // Getty
Laxman's innings was praised right around the world // Getty

Ultimately set an improbable 384 to win in little more than two sessions on day five, Australia began brightly enough courtesy of a 74-run stand from Hayden and Michael Slater, but capitulated at the hands of Harbhajan, who added six wickets to his seven from the first innings and rounded out one of Test cricket's most famous victories.

It remains just the third instance in Test history of a team winning a match having been asked to follow on and – from a point of near disaster – it spurred India to a famous series win.

A version of this story was first published in March 2016