The start of the 21st century was a rocky one for Indian cricket. The game was rocked by the match-fixing scandal and enthusiasm among the supporters was at an all-time low. In 2001, India was facing a rampant Australian side who had won 15 consecutive games on the trot. In the first Test in Mumbai, Australia pulled off a 10-wicket win thanks to centuries from Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden. In the next Test at the Eden Gardens, India faced a potential do-or-die situation. After being asked to follow-on, VVS Laxman played a knock which changed Indian cricket with a magnificent 281 and shared a 376-run stand with Rahul Dravid (180) as India won the match by 171 runs and halted Australia’s dominant run.
Now, 17 years later, Sourav Ganguly, the captain of the side in that famous win, has said the knock saved his captaincy. Speaking in Kolkata during the launch of Laxman’s book ‘281 and beyond’, “I told him it was not the apt title... It should have been ‘281 and beyond and that saved Sourav Ganguly’s career'. I strongly opposed the title because if he had not scored 281, we would have lost the Test and I would not have been captain again,” Ganguly said.
The knock of 281 revived Indian cricket and gave the players life lessons. “Everyone contributed in the Test. Even substitute Hemang Badani took a blinder fielding at forward short leg. That aggression in the team was infectious. We felt for each other in the team,” Laxman wrote in his autobiography. The right-hander would smash his first century in the Gwalior ODI against Australia in that same series. However, following his exploits, Laxman was left out of the 2003 World Cup squad which surprised many people.
The right-hander dwelled on this episode in one chapter. Laxman admitted he was undergoing a tough phase in his career. He was on vacation in the USA and had contemplated giving up the game altogether. “But then I realised, that I did not become a cricketer to play the World Cup but it was for the sport. I was being childish. I told myself ‘I was among the lucky few who got this opportunity and I should not let it go’,” Laxman wrote.
He bounced back in style his crowning moment came in the VB Tri-series in Australia in 2003/04 where he smashed three centuries in three games against Australia and Zimbabwe. Ganguly admitted that dropping Laxman from the side was a ‘mistake’. “Laxman was a player who could have done well in all formats. In hindsight, maybe it was a mistake. As a captain, you take decisions and things happen which may not be right or wrong,” Ganguly said.