January 22, 2008 / 1:20 AM / 10 years ago

Laxman returns to haunt Australia

MUMBAI, India (Reuters) - Like a recurring bad dream, Vangipurappu Laxman has come back to haunt the all-conquering Australia cricket side.

<p>India's Vangipurappu Laxman plays a shot during the third day's play of their third test cricket match against Australia in Perth in this January 18, 2008 file photo. REUTERS/Stringer/Files</p>

The wristy Hyderabad batsman stroked a crucial second-innings 79 to set up India for their 72-run victory in the third test in Perth and deny the Australians a world-record 17th consecutive win.

India were also the last team to defeat Australia at home, winning in Adelaide in December, 2003, when Laxman (148) shared a 303-run stand with Rahul Dravid (233).

It was also Laxman who famously helped to end Steve Waugh’s hopes of a 17th successive victory at Eden Gardens in Calcutta in 1999 with 281 after India had been asked to follow on.

Laxman, 33, put on 75 for the seventh wicket with Mahendra Dhoni to help India recover on the third day at Perth after the top order had collapsed to 160 for six.

He then shepherded the tail for 59 crucial runs to take the total to 294 as the tourists built on a first-innings lead of 118 to set Australia a near-impossible target of 413.

“Whenever the team is under pressure I think it gets the best out of me,” he told reporters. “When I do well and help the team out in these situations it gives me a lot of satisfaction.”

IMPRESSIVE AVERAGE

Laxman has saved his best for Australia, scoring 1,760 runs in 19 tests against the world number one side at an impressive average of 51.76.

Although the “Miracle of Calcutta,” that sparked a comeback 2-1 victory for the hosts, remains his career-defining knock, four of his other hundreds have been scored in Australia and each has been top class.

Laxman has scored 1,018 runs from 10 tests at an average of 56.55 in Australia, while his career average is hovering around the mid-40s. He bats low in the middle order and, more often than not, with only the tail for company.

His place in the XI was not assured at the start of this tour with Yuvraj Singh vying for the middle-order slot on the basis of his remarkable form in the shorter formats of the game.

The stylish, softly spoken Laxman, who has scored 5,595 runs with 12 centuries in 89 tests since his debut in 1996, has often lamented that his test spot was perennially in doubt, especially after he was discarded from the one-day side in 2005 due to his inability to accelerate the run rate in the closing overs.

LAST TOUR

However, the touring committee realized that his vast experience would be too much to sacrifice considering that Laxman (494 runs) was the second highest run-getter after Dravid on the previous tour in 2003-04, a remarkable series that ended in a 1-1 draw.

India addressed the problem by promoting Dravid to open the batting with Wasim Jaffer in the first two tests before reinstating the former captain at his regular number three slot in the third test where he scored a 93 in the first innings.

Laxman scored a century in the second test in Sydney which was marred by many umpiring errors followed by a three-test ban on Harbhajan Singh for alleged racial abuse of all rounder Andrew Symonds, against which the off-spinner has appealed.

India can draw the four-match series if they win the final test in Adelaide starting on Thursday.

It seems certain to be Laxman’s last test on Australian soil, along with Dravid, Saurav Ganguly, Sachin Tendulkar and captain Anil Kumble, as the next tour is four years away.

Editing by John Mehaffey

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