His mind was calm while his stroke-play had the flow of a natural. In a situation of extreme pressure, V.V.S. Laxman eased into what professional sportsmen call “The Zone.”
Fiercely focussed, Laxman could do no wrong in the cauldron. In the latter stages of his innings, even when he was troubled by a spasm on his back, Laxman continued to carve boundaries. This humble man with a kind visage has steel in his bones.And at a venue steeped in history, he scripted an edifice that will not be clouded by the mists of time. He raised his arms in triumph after his 16th Test hundred. A broader smile crossed his face when his jubilant team-mates embraced him after India's famous win.
Laxman's determined yet graceful unbeaten 103 (149b, 12x4) provided India with a series levelling five-wicket victory in the third Test at the P. Saravanamuttu Stadium here on Saturday.
India's stirring chase of 257 was orchestrated around the wristy right-hander. India held its nerve, Sri Lanka failed to press home its advantage.
Off-spinner Suraj Randiv scalped five in a lion-hearted display but key bowers Lasith Malinga and Ajantha Mendis disappointed. The two were also brought in rather late in the day by skipper Kumar Sangakkara.
The three-match Micromax Test series ended in a 1-1 draw. To its credit, India, despite a depleted attack, managed to square the series.
Rightly, Laxman was adjudged the Man of the Match. Virender Sehwag was named the Player of the Series for his contributions with the bat and the ball.
Laxman does have a wonderful sense of timing - he caresses the ballfrom the sweet portion of the willow and times his performances when his team needs them the most. His astonishing 281 against Australia at the Eden Gardens in 2001 raised the bar for Indian cricket.
On the final day here, his batting possessed the technical sophistication to cope with the conditions. Off-spinner Suraj Randiv, extracting extra bounce from the surface, was played late and with soft hands by Laxman.
When Malinga bounced at him, he pulled. And when the paceman strayed on his pads, he glanced. Laxman straighted drove, steered and whipped Randiv, and gloriously cover-drove Ajantha Mendis off his front foot.
He picked the length quickly, was decisive with his footwork, and coaxed the ball through the gaps with a surgeon's precision. This was a high-quality batting display. Pursuing a target is a lot about partnerships. Laxman was involved in two major associations. He added 109 crucial runs with a fighting
Sachin Tendulkar (54) for the for the fifth wicket to put India on course. The opportunity for Sri Lanka appeared and disappeared in a flash. Tendulkar, on 18, attempted to turn Randiv and Tillekaratne Dilshan, at short-leg, put down a regulation bat-pad catch. The Sri Lankans agonised over the lapse.
Laxman and the aggressive Suresh Raina (41 not out) closed out the Test by putting on 87 unbeaten runs for the sixth wicket. The bold Raina ended the contest with a six over mid-wicket off left-arm paceman Chanaka Welegedara.
The day was not without a twist. Just when India appeared to be coasting, Sri Lanka struck. Tendulkar attempted to sweep Randiv only to glove the ball; 'keeper Prasanna Jayawardene managed to hang on to a difficult catch.
Suresh Raina lived dangerously in a pressure situation. The southpaw slashed hard at Lasith Malinga and the ball flew over a leaping Mahela Jayawardene at slip. Raina, subsequently, was more judicious in his stroke-making even as he retained an attacking mind-set.
The pitch settled in the afternoon. Under the circumstances, it was intriguing why Welegedara was given an extended spell in the morning ahead of Malinga. The surface here has assisted the bowlers in the first hour. Sri Lanka needed to have Malinga and Randiv bowling in tandem.
The Sri Lankan ploy of holding back Malinga in the morning – perhaps the side wanted him fresh to bowl reverse swing with the older ball – backfired.
The tall Randiv bowled tirelessly and his bounce from a high-arm action made him a distinct threat. However, he was let down by the Sri Lankan field placements.
Randiv had three fielders in close in positions – the two short-legs and a short mid-wicket – while there was no slip in place. He was forced to bowl a middle and leg line from round the wicket. The dangerous delivery that straightens around the off-stump was marginalised by the field settings.
And the vast open spaces on the off-side allowed Laxman and Tendulkar to pick singles at will to ease the pressure. India that began the day at a tentative 53 for three – the side lost lost nightwatchman Ishant Sharma early to Randiv – gradually recovered.
Tendulkar's balance as he kept the spinning, bouncing deliveries from Randiv down on the on-side, highlighted his technical attributes. Then, Laxman lived a dream in the field of dreams.
Sri Lanka (first innings): 425
India (first innings): 436
Sri Lanka (second innings): 267
India (second inngs): M. Vijay c M. Jayawardene b Randiv 27 (53b, 3x4), V. Sehwag c M. Jayawardene b Randiv 0 (3b), R. Dravid b Randiv 7 (22b), S. Tendulkar c P. Jayawardene b Randiv 54 (122b, 3x4), I. Sharma c Sangakkara b Randiv 4 (26b), V.V.S. Laxman (not out) 103 (149b, 12x4), S.K. Raina (not out) 41 (45b, 4x4, 1x6) Extras (b-5, lb-6, w-2, nb-9) 22;
Total: (for five wkts in 68.3 overs) 258.
Fall of wickets: 1-10 (Sehwag), 2-27 (Dravid), 3-49 (Vijay), 4-62 (Ishant), 5-171 (Tendulkar).
Sri Lanka bowling: Malinga 12-1-49-0, Randiv 29-3-82-5, Mathews 2-0-5-0, Welegedara 8.3-2-34-0, Mendis 14-0-65-0, Dilshan 3-0-12-0.