Better than those? My foot!
Two of the greatest Test innings I've witnessed where extraordinary footwork came into play was VVS Laxman's 2001 epic at the Eden Gardens and the hundred in a session by my teammate Doug Walters during the Trinidad Test at Queen's Park Oval in 1973
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In the absence of any cricket, it's an opportunity to reflect on an aspect of the game I enjoy. That's watching a batsman utilise good footwork to combat top-class spin bowling. Two innings stand out—one played by India's VVS Laxman—the other by Doug Walters of Australia.
Laxman's incredible 281 at Kolkata in 2001 is the best I've seen against top-class leg-spin. At the conclusion of that exhilarating series I asked Shane Warne how he thought he bowled. "I don't think I bowled that badly," he replied. "You didn't," I responded. "If Laxman comes three paces out of his crease and hits an unbelievable on-drive against the spin and you then flight the next delivery a little higher and shorter to invite another drive and instead, he quickly goes onto the back foot and pulls it, that's not bad bowling. That's good footwork."
Doug Walters, the Australian batsman, who could turn a match on his own
Laxman regularly did this during his 452-ball stay in which he hit 44 boundaries. Therein lies a clue to Laxman's success; he consistently hit the ball along the ground. Laxman's temperament was another huge part of his successful innings. He proved on that occasion—and in many subsequent tight situations—he could ignore the team's dire predicament and concentrate solely on the next delivery. That's a great skill he shares with Walters.
Laxman was a superb batsman against all bowling. His magnificent 167 at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2000 included many powerful hooks, cuts and pulls against the pace of Brett Lee and Glenn McGrath. However, his 281 in Kolkata was a defining knock; a very very special innings.
Three times Walters scored a Test century in a session. There are no complete records regarding this feat but I suspect only Sir Donald Bradman did it more often. Walters was the best player of off-spin bowling I've seen; he didn't just survive against the very best, he occasionally battered them into submission. He scored a sublime hundred on a Chennai mine-field in 1969 facing the off-spinning wizardry of Erapalli Prasanna, clubbing 14 fours and two sixes in the process.
However, it was his century in a session on a receptive Queen's Park Oval pitch in Trinidad that really captures his dominance of top-class off-spinners. In that 1973 Test, Walters faced the first ball after lunch from the bowling of later-to-be world record holder Lance Gibbs. In the middle of a wicket-taking over, Gibbs was directing his off-spinners at a rough spot just outside the right-hander's off stump. Walters promptly cover drove—a difficult shot for a right-hander against the turning off-break—the first ball for four. He collected another 13 fours and one six as he raced to 102 at tea. There was one sequence of deliveries from Gibbs that summed up Walters's dominance. Gibbs was bowling to a six (on-side), three field when Walters, with lightning quick footwork, went onto the back foot and pulled a delivery to the mid-wicket boundary. Gibbs immediately moved the point fielder to the mid-wicket boundary. Next ball pitched in virtually the same spot as the previous one and Walters, quickly into position, cut it past the now vacant point position. This prompted Gibbs to move the fielder back to point and when his next delivery again pitched in a similar spot, Walters was in position for another pull shot to the mid-wicket boundary. That is the essence of good footwork; the batsman gets into the ideal position to hit the ball where he chooses, rather than where the bowler wants the shot to go. Walters was a freak who, despite often staying up late drinking and smoking, could still perform at the highest level.
I've been privileged to watch many excellent players of spin, including Brian Lara. However, those innings of Laxman and Walters are prime examples of batsmen dominating against top-class spin bowling.
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