Mohali 2010 - a classic revisited

Every single day, right up until those manically scampered winning leg-byes in the post lunch session on Day 5, was balanced on a knife's edge. For the final 3.2 overs of India's second innings, after Ishant Sharma had become the ninth wicket to fall, it was literally a one-ball game.

Updated: March 21, 2013 16:18 IST
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The lowest that VVS Laxman ever batted in a Test match was at No.10, in a dig that lasted only three balls. It was an unremarkable innings in an otherwise unforgettable match in Mohali in 2010.

That match in 2010 featured the same teams and a sprinkling of the same players who faced off in Mohali two and a half years later, with India winning by six wickets in the final moments of play on Monday (March 18).

The close finish – in terms of time left – was, to an extent, artificially driven with an entire day's play lost in Mohali 2013. There was no such circumstance-aided closeness to Mohali 2010.

When you think of India and Australia with VVS Laxman playing a prominent part, Eden Gardens 2001 invariably springs to mind. For generations of Indians, myself included, that match will remain the greatest they ever saw. As R Kaushik wrote eloquently on this website, reruns of that match make the world a beautiful place.

Yet, there is something about Mohali 2010 that holds a unique appeal. As a showcase of Test cricket being the supreme contest, it is unparalleled in my viewing experience.

Every single day, right up until those manically scampered winning leg-byes in the post lunch session on Day 5, was balanced on a knife's edge. For the final 3.2 overs of India's second innings, after Ishant Sharma had become the ninth wicket to fall, it was literally a one-ball game.

All Australia needed was one ball to do exactly as the bowler asked of it, and the umpire to raise his finger. Somehow, Pragyan Ojha, India's No.11, survived the Australian bowlers best efforts and the completely unexpected sight of Laxman losing his cool on a cricket field, and India held on for a one-wicket win.

It remains India's narrowest win (by wickets) in a Test, and it's fitting that a match such as that one should have the distinction.

The end of day scores for each of the first four days show the kind of dead-heat it was. Every day at stumps, the moment seemed ripe for one team to seize the moment and run with it, and each time, over the course of the day's play, no team allowed the other to go too far before catching up.

If Australia started strongly, India struck back with wickets. When India were gaining ascendancy through their powerful batting, the famed Aussie never-say-die spirit ensured that partnerships were broken, and energy was unabated in the field.

At the end of the first day, Australia were 224 for 5, with Shane Watson unbeaten on what was to be the only century in the match, and India sloppy in the field with catches liberally put down. On the second day, India ended at 110 for 2, with Sehwag out nine balls before the close after Australia had made 428.

India batted through the third day, but were all out at the close for 405, conceding a narrow 23-run lead. The last man out was Laxman, batting at No.10 and struggling with a back injury that meant India were effectively a batsman short. With two days left and a slim lead, it was anybody's game. For a brief while on Day 4, India appeared to have seized the advantage, by bowling Australia out for 192. And yet, at stumps, the chase looked decidedly uncertain with India 55 for 4, and still no Laxman in sight.

Four riveting days with no quarter given from either side were topped by an adrenaline-fuelled fifth day that will stay in memory for long. India were reduced to 124 for 8, and there seemed to be no more twists left, with the target of 216 light years away.

To see Laxman bat for the next two hours was vindication of why sports take such a hold over people's imaginations. In a match where millimetres mattered, whoever could do the running for a greater part of the fifth day would win, and, at that supreme moment, Laxman was there. For those who still weren't converts in 2010, that day would have done it.

In an 81-run stand with Ishant, Laxman forgot the trouble his own back was giving him and became the spine his team needed him to be. With the target 92 runs away, farming the strike was not a realistic option, and what followed was a classic demonstration of batting with the tail, with the tailender responding magnificently to the trust reposed in him by the top-order batsman.

Mohali has been the setting for several memorable moments. Sachin Tendulkar went past Brian Lara's tally of 11,953 runs to become Test cricket's leading run-scorer in 2008. A few months later, India faced England after sensationally chasing down 387 in Chennai and Rahul Dravid scored a far-from-pretty century in a dull draw. Dravid later revealed that he thought that hundred very significant because a failure then on the back of a wretched year, could have meant curtains for his career.

Further back, in 1994, West Indies triumphed over India to preserve a proud legacy of being unbeaten in a series since March 1980, and Iqbal Siddiqui became a source of cricketing trivia in 2001, by opening the bowling and batting in what was his only Test match.

And yet, all those moments, including India going up 3-0 on Monday (March 18), pale before the closing moments of the 2010 Test. An animated Laxman having a verbal go at Ojha, the disappointment on Ishant's face at being adjudged leg-before wicket to a ball sliding down, and the explosion of joy when the Test was won.

On air in Mohali's 2013 Test, Laxman said: "Sometimes it's a curse having too many shots, you don't know which one to play." It's the same with all of his innings, save the other-worldly 281. You don't know which one to pick as second best.

But, for my money, given the way the Mohali 2010 Test had played out, the physical handicap of a dodgy back and the psychological pressure of such a chase, his 73 not out sits easily and well behind Eden Gardens 2001.

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