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281: Very very special

Similarities between Laxman’s Eden epic and McCullum’s masterclass go well beyond figure of 281.

Updated: February 18, 2014 2:47:15 pm

By the time you unfold this newspaper, Brendon McCullum would’ve, in all likelihood, become New Zealand’s first triple centurion in his country’s 84-year Test history. But long before the paperboy slipped today’s edition under your front door, McCullum had already achieved a milestone of great significance. A milestone far greater than fantastic feats or soaring statistics. A milestone that has transformed the image of a nation.

While you slept on either side of your lazy Sunday, the Kiwi skipper woke New Zealand cricket up from a snoring slumber and trained it to fight. So much so that now, regardless of how this match and the series ends in Wellington by this afternoon, cricket’s favourite underdog no longer resembles the well-manicured pooch that wags its tail from your neighbour’s lawn, but more a mongrel that chases your car down the road and snarls at your children.

This growling metamorphosis was caused by one soft-spoken man, in all of two days. Quite like another shy batsman who placed a spine under Indian cricket’s sagging hide, over the course of a Test match in Kolkata 13 years ago.

The similarities between VVS Laxman’s Eden Gardens epic and McCullum’s under-construction masterclass at the Basin Reserve go well beyond the figure of 281. Both turned around matches that weren’t ever supposed to be turned around (India were following-on against the Aussies in 2001, New Zealand were hurtling towards an innings defeat at 94/5).

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Both were involved in 300 plus run stands with the last recognised batsman in the order (Rahul Dravid batting at six and wicketkeeper BJ Watling at seven). Both batted for a good part of the third day and the entirety of the fourth. And both were on the verge of a triple century to begin Day Five.

But the most important parallel between these two epoch-defining knocks is this: Both Laxman and McCullum chose world cricket’s figurehead-of-the-hour to send their respective message across (Incidentally, Laxman scored over third of his centuries against Australia and McCullum has now struck each of his three double centuries against India).

Yes, current-day India are no turn-of-the-century Aussies on the cricket field. But off it, thanks to their brimming coffers and the Position Paper and N Srinivasan and a puppet called ICC, India are the ultimate powerhouse. The team everyone wants to play against. The team everyone wants to beat.

Unlike Laxman’s heroics in March 2001, McCullum’s knock may yet not result in a win. Still, his Wellington effort is a bit like that proverb on fishing. Give a team a win, and you please them for a day; show them how to win, and you please them for a lifetime.

(Aditya is a principal correspondent, based in New Delhi)

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