'We didn't play to our potential in England'
Batting ace VVS Laxman on what makes him excel against Australia, and why he believes this M S Dhoni-led Indian team can triumph in the four-Test series, starting later this month.
Think of cricket and Australia, and the name VVS Laxman immediately comes to mind. The men in Baggy Green have suffered the most at the hands of the Hyderabadi right-hander, whose wristy strokes and calm approach made many of their bowlers toil, ponder and ultimately yield.
Laxman's magical innings of 281 against the Aussies that turned around the Kolkata Test in 2001 is definitely one of the best innings ever seen in the longer version of the game. Such was the genius of the right-hander, and the effectiveness of his wristy flicks, that an Australian side featuring the best bowlers of their era in Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath openly claimed that, at times, they were clueless as to how and where to bowl to him.
It is not as if the 37-year-old hasn't fared well against other teams, but his game assumes a completely different level when he is up against the Aussies. And, as he admits, he loves playing in Australia, where he got his first Test hundred in January 2000.
Just before he embarked on what could possibly be his last tour Down Under, Laxman spoke with Harish Kotian, at the ITC Maratha Hotel in Mumbai. He revealed why he loves playing in Australia, and why he believes this M S Dhoni-led Indian team can beat the odds and triumph in the four-Test series, starting later this month.
After the debacle in England, how important is this Australian tour for the Indian team to prove its credentials as one that is capable of winning outside the subcontinent too?
The England tour was not a good experience for all of us. For various reasons we were not able to play to our potential; but, saying that, as a team we learnt from that experience and bounced back strongly, especially the ODI team which beat England 5-0 at home followed by the 2-0 Test series win against the West Indies.
So we are looking forward to the Australian series; I am sure that if we play to our potential we can beat them.
Image: VVS Laxman
'Won't be right for me to disclose reasons for our failure in England'
What do you think went wrong in England? How can we set it right in Australia?
As I said, there were various reasons and it won't be right for me to disclose it in the open. As a team we discussed that and there were various reasons which came out. We put that in place and worked hard going forward. I am very happy we have done that in the two series we played after the England tour. So, hopefully, we can do well in the upcoming Australian series too.
Personally, how much do you enjoy playing in Australia, where everyone, from cricketers, former players and fans, love you so much?
I have always enjoyed playing in Australia. I always mention that it is one of the best places to play cricket -- the grounds, the wickets, the outfields and also the atmosphere at the ground -- because so many people turn up at the ground to watch the cricket. It is great to see that. The kind of support any good performances get even from the local spectators is very encouraging. It is a great place to watch cricket. I am sure even this time we will have a good time.
Image: VVS Laxman
'Getting my first Test hundred in Australia was satisfying'
Your career also took a turn in Australia. Everyone remembers you for the magical knock of 281 at Eden Gardens, but that cracking innings of 167 you scored as an opener in Sydney, in Jan 2000, also was important for your career. It was your first Test century and it made everyone stand up and take notice of your batting skills. How do you rate that innings of 167?
Not from my Test career point of view, but, definitely, it was very important for me, because it was my first Test hundred. Also, getting a hundred against a tough opposition with quality bowlers, in tough conditions to bat on, was very satisfying for me.
Obviously, that gave me a lot of confidence going forward. I think that knock of 167 was very important for me. Also, getting a hundred in Australia was special because right from my childhood I used to watch Test matches being played in Australia. I used to get up early in the morning and watch the Test matches and listen to legends like Bill Lawry, Richie Benaud and Ian Chappell commentate on the match. So getting my first Test hundred in Australia, where I have always dreamt of playing for my country, was very encouraging and satisfying.
Then your next big innings was the 281. Is there anything special that you remember of that knock in Kolkata? What inspired you to play such an innings?
The only inspiration is to do well for the country. That is the biggest motivation for me. The situation we were in... we just wanted to bat long. Me and Rahul [Dravid] had a wonderful partnership on the fourth day and the only goal was to play each and every ball on its merit. Everything fell in place and we were able to achieve a big lead and then bowl them out on the fifth day.
So it was a great Test match, a great series to be involved in!
Image: VVS Laxman
'You look forward to the challenge of playing top class bowlers in international cricket'
Do you still remember your battles with Shane Warne? How were you able to dominate him at the peak of his career? You seemed at so much ease every time you played him...
I have always enjoyed playing against Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath. They were both top class bowlers. The beauty of international cricket is that you get a chance to play against top class bowlers, and that is the challenge you look forward to.
I am really pleased that I have done well against some top class bowlers, and, without doubt, Shane Warne will be on top of that list.
I am really pleased that I was able to counter Warne, especially on turning wickets in India.
Do you believe that this Indian team can triumph in Australia? Certainly, their team is not as strong as a few years back.
Every tour we embark on we look forward to winning, and it won't be any different this time around. Our only goal is to win the Test series in Australia. We are not really looking at the opposition, because all we want to do is to play to our strengths and concentrate on doing our best.I firmly believe that irrespective of what opposition we face, if we play to potential we can beat any side in the world.
Image: VVS Laxman with MS Dhoni
'Confident that Ojha, Ashwin will do well in Australia'
A few years ago you had said that India were struggling to find quality spinners in terms of bench strength, as back-up to Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. Are you happy with the way R Ashwin and Pragyan Ojha have started their careers in Test cricket?
Absolutely! Both of them performed really well in the Test series against the West Indies. I am confident that both of them will do well in Australia also.
You are someone who is known to create a positive energy in the dressing room and encourage the young players. How important is it to keep the dressing room positive on difficult tours like Australia and motivate the youngsters?It is very important, because I firmly believe that if the dressing room atmosphere is good and relaxed, it allows the players to go out with a relaxed mind and perform to the best of their abilities. I have really benefited from that; because of a relaxed dressing atmosphere I have been able to do perform well in the last two to three years.
Image: Pragyan Ojha and R Ashwin