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The fourth and final Test between India and Australia [Images], at the new stadium in Jamtha, Nagpur, witnessed a very, very special landmark. VVS Laxman completed a century of Test matches. India's most talented and attractive, yet most underrated, batsman showed he is still as good and as hungry for runs as he was in his first Test as India outclassed the Aussies and won the four-Test series 2-0.
While Aussie bowlers have had no answer to the Hyderabadi's wristy batting over the years, England's [Images], in comparison, have enjoyed a far better success rate and Laxman is yet to register a century against them in 11 Test matches.
In an exclusive interview with Chief Correspondent Harish Kotian, Laxman talks about his journey in the game thus far, the pain of not playing in an ODI World Cup and why Australia brings the best out of him.
It couldn't have been better for you in Nagpur, where you completed a landmark 100 Test matches. The 2-0 series victory was the perfect icing on the cake�
That was the best way to complete 100 Test matches. Also, winning the Test series was important; contributing in that win was very satisfying. I am happy with the way the Test series went, both for me and the team.
You got your friends and family to come to Nagpur for the Board of Control for Cricket in India's felicitation ceremony. How satisfying a landmark was it to complete 100 Tests?
Yes, absolutely, because the background I came from, I always wanted to become a doctor. But, for someone like me, where academics was top priority in the family, someone to have played for the country itself was a great moment for all of us. And playing 100 Test matches was definitely the most satisfying moment for the entire family and for all my friends and coaches, who played a vital role in this amazing journey.
I should also thank my uncle, who spotted this talent in me, and my wife, who actually supported me after marriage.
Who were the people who shaped such a great career?
I think there are a lot of people who helped me. In India, especially in a game of cricket, there will be a lot of people who actually help you at various stages of your career. So I think it will be difficult to name each of them, but I want to thank each one of them for their help and also for all their support along this journey of mine.
When you are batting in the middle you make everything look so easy. How difficult was the journey of 100 Tests, especially at the start of your career when you were tried at every batting position?
I think the first four years were a great learning experience for me, because I was not a regular member of the Test team and was in and out of it. But that experience of four years has helped me to become mentally tough and concentrate on the things I can control. I am also happy that I have adjusted to the various batting positions that I have batted throughout my career and have excelled in that. So I take a lot of confidence from that. Overall, I think, it has been a great journey. Yes, there have been a lot of ups and downs, but that is a part of every sportsman's career, or anyone's life for that matter. But I am happy that I have overcome all the obstacles and challenges I had and come out in flying colours.
Which was the bigger turning point in your career? 167 in Sydney in Jan 2000 or the 281 in Kolkata in 2001? I know the 281 changed your life, but where do you rate 167, because it was your maiden century and came on a fast bouncy pitch?
I think before that the Under-19 series against Australia in India was the turning point, because till that time my uncle and coaches had more belief in my potential than myself. But that series against the Australia Under-19 team gave me the confidence and belief that I can represent the country and that is the number one [turning point].
I would say number two in international cricket is definitely the 167, because that was my first hundred, and that too getting it in tough conditions against a good bowling attack. It gave me the confidence that I can score big runs in international cricket. That was definitely the turning point as far as international cricket was concerned.
The 281 and that 2001 Test series gave me and the team confidence that we can comeback from any situation and win and beat any team in the world. The Australians were the top class team at that time and we defeated them in closely-contested matches. I think that the 2001 Test series gave me and the team the confidence that we can bail the team out of any situation.
Australia has always brought out the best from you. You dedicated your century, the 178 at Sydney in Jan 2004 to Steve Waugh, who bid farewell to cricket in that match? Did he inspire you in your early days?
It was just that it was his last Test match in international cricket and getting 178 in that match was definitely memorable. Steve Waugh was definitely one of the great players that world cricket has seen and me getting 178 in the farewell Test of Steve Waugh was a great feeling, so I thought I would dedicate the hundred to him at that moment.
Anil Kumble [Images] and Sachin Tendulkar [Images] said during the felicitation ceremony that you were a fantastic player who didn't get his due as a player. Has that affected you over the years?
Initially, in my career, yes [it did affect me] but then with experience I knew I would just concentrate on the things which I can control and that is to perform consistently for the country; then I never used to bother about it.
But in the last few years there have been times whenever the team has not done well that your place was under scrutiny. Did that hurt? How did you cope with that?
Again, I would not think about that too much, because if I am thinking about it then it occupies my mental space and it is not going to help me anyway. I never used to think about all these things happening outside the cricket field. I would just think about the things I could control and whenever I get an opportunity do well for the country.
You played just 86 ODIs since making your debut in April 1998. which doesn't do full justice to your talent. Where do you think it went wrong? Was it that you were not given enough opportunities?
I would have been happy if I would have been given more opportunities in one-dayers, because when I was dropped I thought I could have done well. I was doing well in all forms of the game so it was disappointing to miss out or being dropped from the one-day side.
Does not playing in a World Cup still hurt you, especially your exclusion from the 2003 World Cup when you were in the prime of your career?
Yes, it was most disappointing moment in my international career, because I was looking forward to that 2003 World Cup. Suddenly missing out at the last moment was definitely very difficult for me to digest. It was definitely the worst moment in my international career.
Would you still want to play one-dayers before you end your career, just to prove a point?
At the moment I am just focussing on the Test matches I am playing and the matches coming up.
Would you also like to captain the Indian team someday before you finish? Is that something you regret missing out on?
That is totally up to the selectors. But anyone who plays for the country would be really pleased if he captains the country. But it is something that I have never craved for; whenever it comes it will be a great honour.
You were a close mate of Anil Kumble. How did you react to his sudden retirement in Delhi [Images]?
It was an emotional moment not only for me but everyone, because Anil was a great performer and a great team man. He was a selfless cricketer who would put his team interest ahead of his own. So it was an emotional moment for all of us when he announced his retirement. But at the same time it was a great moment for all of us to celebrate his successes, achievements and contribution to Indian cricket. He has been a great source of inspiration not only to me but to our generation and for generations to come.
How difficult will it be to replace someone like Sourav Ganguly [Images], who made such a big impact in Indian cricket?
These cricketers will be difficult to replace because of their contributions and performances. But I am sure that someone will come and fill in their shoes.
A lot was being made about the senior players before the start of the Australia series. But, as was seen in the series, it was the seniors who played a major part in the series win. How satisfying was it to answer the critics in such fine style?
It was definitely satisfying, because the kind of win we had against Australia, I think, each one of us contributed, which is the hallmark of any good side. So that is very satisfying and we take a lot of confidence from this.
Rahul Dravid [Images] has been going through a rough time lately. Do you believe he can come out of this lean period?
I am sure he will come out of this, because he has been a great performer and a great achiever for the Indian cricket team in the last 13 years.
Having played Australia so much over the years, would you say their bowling attack in the recently-concluded Test series was the weakest you ever faced?
I would not say [it was the weakest] but I would definitely say it was an inexperienced bowling attack, because all of them were playing for the first time in the sub-continent. But I think we should give a lot of credit to our batsmen because there were a lot of situations in the series where the matches could have gone either way, but our batsmen bailed the team out from tough situations or situations that could have gone either way. As a batting unit, the Indian team did really well.
Also, did it surprise you that the Australian team adopted such a defensive approach throughout the series?
Definitely, I think they were defensive countered to the other Australian teams that have visited India before.
How much of a role would you say fast bowlers Zaheer Khan [Images] and Ishant Sharma played in the victory?
I think it has been a long time since I have seen the kind of fast bowling partnership display that Zaheer and Ishant displayed. Both of them put the opposition under pressure straightaway. The important thing is that they were not only getting wickets but they were putting a lot of pressure by not giving away runs easily. Both of them bowled superbly throughout the series and one of the reasons for our victory was the contributions of these two fast bowlers.
India is now just 13 points behind Australia, who are ranked number one in the Test rankings? Do you believe this team can climb to the number one ranking soon?
I think that is our goal and that is our aim. We just want to do well and play to our potential and take each series as it comes. That is definitely our goal. I am sure that the way we played against Australia, if we continue to do that we will definitely reach that goal.
Looking ahead at the series against England, you are yet to score a century in Tests against them (4 fifties in 11 Tests). Is that something you will be looking ahead to achieve when you face them?
I would not look at my individual landmarks when I play them. When I am out in the middle I will just look to try and contribute to the team's success, may it be a crucial 40 or 50 or a hundred. But I would definitely like to perform consistently against them and play some crucial knocks which will help our team to win the series.
How important is this England series in terms of maintaining the momentum after beating Australia so convincingly?
It is very important because we just want to go from strength to strength. We had a very good series against Australia and we want to continue that in the upcoming series as well.
Australia paid a big price for not having a good spinner in their line-up. England have a lone spinner in Monty Panesar [Images], whom you have played a few times. How do you rate him? Do you think he will pose a threat during the Test series?
I think not only Monty, but the other bowlers too, because they have a very good bowling attack, a very balanced bowling attack. But I believe we should concentrate only on our strengths and if we play to potential then we can definitely beat any side in the world.
Photographs: Getty Images
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