At end of the 2nd day’s play during the 2nd test of the Ashes, the question reverberating through everyone’s mind was whether Strauss would chose to enforce the follow-on. This was a decision that would not have merited a 2nd thought even as recently as 10 years ago. While conceding the fact that pitches have become far easier to play these days and the quality of bowling has generally come down, if there is one reason why captain are loath to impose the follow-on, it is because of a man named VVS Laxman and the career-defining innings that he played on a hot day.
I still remember the day. March of 2001, it was the 12th standard board exam time and like most moms, my mom was dead against me watching cricket (she still is but then now it cant be helped). Plus those were the pre-cable days in my house and good ol’ DD would show only 2 hrs of play. The first and the last hour of play. So I would ensure that I would catch that up. Imagine my shock when I switched the TV on at 3.30 and it was still the duo of Dravid and Laxman batting on. This was sporting miracle at its best. There was joyous outpouring, I did a lil jig to which a standard mom’s reply came back “Its after all only cricket, you can watch it after your board exams (replace board exams with semester exams, mock CATs, CAT, office) get over. And obviously call up other equally excited junta on phone on pretext of discussing a doubt to further dissect the match. I remember watching the highlights as a solace and wondering at the fortitude of the 2 men in the middle defying the all-conquering Aussies.
What stood out in that partnership was the way Laxman went about his innings. With the calm of a Zen master (as described by Dravid), he went about playing his shots when even a single false stroke could have sealed the match. That one innings is likely to define Laxman’s career irrespective of whatever else he achieves. The effect of that innings has been that captains nowadays have been extremely reluctant to enforce a follow-on fearing that someone else might do a “Laxman” again. I remember when India toured Down Under in 2003 for the reciprocal series and were facing down the barrel with 4 wickets lost for less than 80 behind a mammoth first innings Aussie total, the questions asked to Steve Waugh was more around whether he would enforce the follow-on.(Its a different matter that Dravid and Laxman scored scintillating centuries and nearly repeated Kolkata). That was the effect of such a monumental innings.
The Laxman Effect seems to a fairly good phenomenon to be added to the cricketing jargon and in the context of the game, deserves to be called as one of the greatest innings ever played.
PS: This has been typed on a laptop where the space bar has been functioning as consistently as Shahid Afridi, hence loads of bloopers are possible.