Three of the big four are now gone and if one analyzes the way that these stalwarts have gone, one can draw many a parallel between their playing life and the way in which they called time on their careers.
Dada was the first. He did not go quietly. He went down fighting. He went and then immediately wanted to come back but better sense prevailed. The wall called for a most dignified press conference and gently let the world know that he was going. He then answered a few questions, straightened his tie and quietly shimmered away.
And then there was the nice guy. He said that he had contemplated hanging up his willow for a brief while. This news got out. Everyone speculated that he would play his final test at his home ground and bid adieu. After all, it was the right thing to do and would be the fitting end. Not VVS, though. He called for an innocuous press conference and said that he was retiring. With immediate effect.
Surely, wouldn’t one want to go out in a blaze of glory in front of one’s home fans? The opposition, with all due respect to them, is New Zealand. A century in Hyderabad would surely be something that one could ponder. One could so easily see the glory. One could; VVS couldn’t. For him, it was the team first. Always. The retirement just epitomizes that.
When one thinks of Laxman, one thinks of the cuts, the pulls, the cover drives and the flicks; oh, the flicks! Keeping in tradition with his predecessor from Hyderabad, Laxman played with utmost grace and panache, making the game look simple. He often lacked footwork but for all the footwork that he did lack, he made up for in superior hand-eye coordination.
He did have his struggles against seam and swing, and that owed, in most part, to the minimalist footwork. But against raw pace, he was special. The spinners? Ha! Well, let’s just say that he was arguably the best player of spin in the Indian team for a very long time; and this was a team that included the other titans of the game. His technique was precise; it was compact. One hardly saw the flourish of Brian Lara or the gritty sweat of Dravid. Somehow, when Laxman played, time seemed to stand still.
He was shunted up and down the order; he was left to fend for his and the team’s life with the tail. He was regularly overlooked in the ODI team; when there was talk of it being time for one of the Big four to be dropped, it was inevitably his name that came first. Why? Everyone knew that he would not complain. He would take it on his chin and then bounce back; just like he has always done.
A swagger is generally associated with cockiness but if a swagger could ever be associated with gentleness and class, it would be VVS’ stride to the crease. Whatever the condition, he always strode out with a smile on his face but a determination in his eyes. The team always came first.
The game must mourn the passing of one of it’s greatest heroes into the oblivion of the after-life; as far as cricket is concerned, anyway. VVS will not be celebrated as Sachin is; he will not be worshipped as Dada is; he will never be looked upon as reverently as Dravid. VVS, however, does not need any of this; he has a unique place in history – a place that is his and his alone.
There are batsmen and then there are artists who pose as batsmen; those who paint the scenery of a cricket field with strokes of their brushes that pose as willows. They take such joy in their artistry that they seldom know how good they are. They are so unassuming that you would almost think that they are ordinary. You could, so easily be lulled into thinking this Hyderabadi, who you would fail to spot in a crowd, is one such ordinary batsman. He is special.
I was watching Television when I came across the news of his retirement. There were too many things going on in the head to even contemplate; to arrange and to put into words. The news item ended. There was a commercial break. I closed my eyes. The jingle from the commercial floated in through my ears – ‘miss me; close your eyes and miss me; … happines in your eyes.’ At the end of the commercial, a haunting voice said, ‘have you felt silk lately?’
It felt apt.