In October 2010, India played Australia from its perch as the world’s No. 1 one Test team for the first time. The two-Test series began with a thriller at Mohali, when a fourth-innings Houdini known as Laxman once again conjured a win for India out of nowhere, despite being 8 wickets down, and 92 more runs to go:
At the other end stood a fourth-innings magician who had conjured victories for India out of nowhere. Just two months ago, despite a troubled back, Laxman had hit a century to take India to a win in Sri Lanka. Would the challenge today – 92 runs with two wickets in hand – prove to be beyond even this conjuror?
Inscrutable and imperturbable, Laxman had a plan. Ponting spread the field, offering him a single and Laxman accepted every time, taking a run off either the first or second ball in eight consecutive overs, trusting Ishant to negotiate the rest of the over. By lunch, Sharma had played 35 balls and was on 14 with two fours, while Laxman had played only 16 balls – together, they had added 38 runs.
The pattern continued after lunch. In the first eight overs after lunch, Ishant played 36 balls while Laxman faced only 12. Ponting’s tactics of spreading the field for Laxman did not work as he calmly took singles off the first ball and handed strike to the tail-ender. The two had added 31 more runs by now, when Laxman played a stunning pull of great authority and then caressed a cover-drive on the rise off Watson. Then Sharma steered a couple of boundaries through the gully and survived a scary bouncer from the pacy Johnson. Seeing Johnson trouble Ishant in the 53rd over, Laxman changed tactics when he faced Johnson next, refusing singles till the fourth ball. If the tension and pressure was unbearable for the spectators and viewers on television, how must it have been for the players? Ishant played out the remaining two balls. The score had moved to 203 for 8. Back against Hilfenhaus, Laxman reverted to taking a single off the first ball. Next ball Ishant was out to a poor leg before decision, as the ball was clearly missing leg. He had helped Laxman take India from the brink of defeat to within sight of victory, with an 81-run partnership in nearly two hours and 22 overs. Ojha survived the rest of the over and Laxman took all of Johnson the next over.
With six more runs needed, Laxman wanted a single off the fifth ball of Hilfenhaus but Ojha was slow and indecisive, and the opportunity was lost. For the only time in public memory, the monk-like calm of Laxman cracked as he berated Ojha with expletives – immortalized in a now-famous image of Laxman raising his bat at Ojha. But a minute later, the ‘man of peace’ had calmed down, patted Ojha, apologized and smiled at him.
In Johnson’s next over, India received an incredible stroke of fortune as the umpire turned down a shout for leg before. Ojha seemed gone but Bowden decided there was an inside-edge. Amidst the excitement, Steve Smith tried to throw down the stumps, missed and India were gifted four overthrows. One to tie, two to win. As the clock showed 1.37 p.m., Ojha and Raina ran the two leg-byes that took India to victory. Laxman, Raina and Ojha embraced and all the Indian players rushed to the ground. The Houdini of fourth-innings victories had created another masterpiece.