‘Almost Didn’t Play Eden Gardens Test’: VVS Laxman on 281 vs Aus
(This story was originally published in January 2019 and is being reposted on the occasion of the 18th anniversary of VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid’s mammoth partnership on Day 4 of the Kolkata Test against Australia)
“It was definitely the best game and the most memorable match of my career. 274 runs behind, following-on, and to end up on a winning note,” VVS Laxman says while reminiscing the innings that has become synonymous with him, with his partnership with Rahul Dravid and with Eden Gardens. The 281 against Australia had helped India win a Test match despite being made to follow-on.
As this legend of Indian cricket launches his book, 281 and Beyond, to share memories of his career and the early beginnings that almost saw him become a doctor, The Quint caught up with Laxman to talk only about one match. ‘That’ Eden Gardens Test.
Your 281 is an innings every Indian has etched very clearly in their memory. But to you, saving that test match, batting through a full day with Dravid, and doing it at your favorite Eden Gardens – how special was it?
It was definitely the most memorable match of my career, not because I got 281 runs, but because of the magnitude of that Test match. The opposition was Steve Waugh’s Australia side that I feel was one of the best sides against whom I have played cricket.
The Australia team came into India saying we were the ‘final frontier’ after winning 16 consecutive Test matches, not only in Australia but all over the world. They had great batsmen, impactful bowlers. We were 274 runs behind, following-on, and to end up on a winning note, was the most satisfying and the most memorable match not only for me but for all the players involved in the match.
At the other end during most of innings was Rahul Dravid. The two of you had almost grown up together, how special was it to share this big moment in cricket history with him?
I have known Rahul (Dravid) since I was 16 years old. He was two years senior to me, and I was always a great admirer of Rahul. Right from the first day, when I saw him while we were playing an Under-19 match between Hyderabad and Karnataka.
You saw class. You saw talent. And more importantly, you saw someone who had the commitment and passion towards the game. I was very impressed with those qualifies and it just got better and better as years went by.
You’ve chronicled a lot in your book about how the opening slot was one you did not like at all. The middle order was your home. But in that match, you came out at 3 where in fact Rahul usually batted.
It was great to see Rahul not once show any sign of disappointment. Rahul was the vice-captain of the team and the number 3 batsman but in that second innings in Kolkata, I was promoted at number 3 and Rahul had to bat at number 6. Not even once was there any discontent or any disappointment on Rahul’s face.
It was great to see him battle past cramps and play well because coming into that Test match, he was suffering with viral fever. Rahul had a bad habit of cramping a lot. It was humid and hot in Kolkata that day during the Test match. But all we tried to do was achieve our goal. Specially on the fourth day’s morning, our goal was to bat the whole day At the end of each over, all we tried to do was remind each other of the bigger goal.
The injury to your back? That’s something we heard about much later, Sehwag has also said he always saw you with the physio walking very strangely at the team hotel but the players had no idea what was wrong with you. Amazing almost isn’t it, that you weren’t even supposed to play that match at Eden Gardens!
I was not even going to play that Test match because three days before the start of the match, we had our first practice session and six or seven minutes into the session, I suddenly felt a lot of stiffness in my back. I came out of the nets and when I went back to the hotel and walked into our physio Andrew Leipus’ room. I told him I had a stiff back but I was sure I would be fine in two days' time to take the field.
He had a surprised look on his face and then he asked me to look into the mirror. When I saw myself in the mirror, I was shell-shocked to see that I had a list. List is something where your upper body is tilted towards one side while your lower half remains straight. My upper body was tilted towards the left side.
I was shocked and I started crying and I was in tears. That was the first time I was seeing something like that. But Andrew really worked hard on my back for the next two days. We had at least 5 or 6 sessions a day and he made sure that I take the field. I will always be indebted to Andrew for the work he put on my back.