January 4, 2000, Sydney Cricket Ground: A tall, slightly diffident-looking 25-year-old walked out to open India’s innings just after lunch. thinking to himself while marking his guard, “this might be my last chance.” India had already lost the first two Tests at Adelaide and Melbourne, and stared at certain defeat and a series whitewash here, starting the third innings of the third Test 402 runs behind Australia. From these ruins, a great batsman would flower.
At the start of this innings, V.V.S. Laxman, in his 17th Test, averaged under- 25. having batted mostly as an opener, a role he’d never enjoyed. Along the way, he had shown scattered hints of his ability with five half centuries but barely enough to keep the selectors’ faith from flickering.Very soon, the immediacy of the situation banished these thoughts from Laxman’s head. By the eighth over, M.S.K. Prasad, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar had left, leaving India 33 for three. Laxman too was rattled early on, struck on his helmet grille by a nasty delivery from Glenn McGrath. that followed his head like a heat-seeking missile even as he tried to sway out of line.This had no effect on his composure, however, and only heightened the beauty of his punishing backfoot play. He pulled Damien Fleming repeatedly in front of square, and when the seamers bowled full, swished them away through cover.
Against Shane Warne, he gave a tantalising glimpse of the future, stepping out and whipping him against the turn through midwicket.Above all, Laxman treated the hitherto scarily fast Brett Lee with disdain. The blond Lee had taken seven wickets on debut in the second Test, but here, stunned by Laxman’s assault, went for 67 from his 11 overs. Appropriately, Laxman brought up his 100 with a pull off Lee.Eighth out in India’s innings of 261, Laxman made 167 off just 198 balls, with 27 boundaries. India finished on the wrong side of a series whitewash and returned home with serious doubts about its credentials in overseas conditions, but discovered a batsman who would play a central role in turning these doubts around over the next decade.Karthik Krishnaswamy
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