On the 18th August 2012, I was just dawdling my time on the Internet, as it had become my habit for quite sometime. After getting a bit bored on Facebook, I presumed that checking out my Yahoo mail could provide me with some relief from boredom. As soon as I opened the Homepage, there was a Breaking News -A Headline flashing before my eyes that said – ” VVS Laxman may announce his retirement after the first Test against New Zealand in Hyderabad”.
I was shocked to be honest. Neither I nor the thousands of cricket fans worldwide expected this to happen so early. Yes, I knew that he was 37, and nearing the end of his illustrious career spanning over 16 years in total, but such a sudden decision was completely surprising. This abrupt decision taken by one of the finest, most stylish and ‘wristiest’ batsmen to have ever played the game – a thorough gentleman both on and off the field, who reminded me of another champion cricketer, Anil Kumble.
Coming back to VVS’s decision, I made sure that I am not going to miss the sendoff by the players when he walks out to bat in the second innings at Hyderabad, even if it means that I will have to miss one day of my college.. I wanted to see it live. But little did I know that the same evening, the domain will witness his final goodbye to international Cricket with “immediate effect”. At first, I felt cheated and angry that such a Legend is not even giving his homecrowd a chance to bid him adieu, one last time!
When asked the reason by the media for such a hurried decision, VVS explained that he listened to his inner voice that did not let him continue, and called it quits. I know we were all extremely surprised & disappointed by his conclusion, but the most shocking part was his wife Sailaja’s reaction at the ceremony where she couldn’t control her emotions- tears rolling down her cheeks. She had expected her husband to contribute to the team against the touring England who play four test matches, and against Australia in February 2013. For me, I personally felt that VVS left hurt. Having already left the ODI arena a long time back, back in the South African summer of December 2006, perhaps VVS, or ‘ Very Very Special ‘ as he’s called by his fans was done playing not more than 6-7 test matches every year.
I do not mean to say that VVS was tired of representing his country. It’s just that he felt his time to step down had come and a large number of talented youngsters waiting in the sidelines must be given a fair opportunity to showcase their skills. Anyhow, there have always been unavailing comparisons by the media between the legends like Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Kumble and Laxman and who could act as potential replacements for these giants of the game among the the young brigade of India comprising the likes of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina, Ajinkya Rahane, Cheteshwar Pujara or Subramaniam Badrinath. But amidst all these various debates going on, people forget that the so called young guns have miles to go before they could even be counted among the aforementioned class of gentlemen, or without the proper spirit, guidance and, most importantly, adaptability they could turn out to be a promising but hapless case just like Vinod Kambli, who was ‘better’ than Sachin, according to their common friends. And even if these supremos do match the giants, there’s something called modesty, humility’ & mode of conduct – both on & off the field that is extremely challenging for the upcoming talents to practice.
The newspapers of 19th August were even more unsatisfying with only a couple of articles covering the wristy Hyderabadi maestro’s retirement. No, I am not saying that an entire daily newsprint should have been dedicated to him as tribute, but for a guy who has played over 130 Test matches, won the Padma Shri, Arjuna Award, 2002 Wisden Cricketer of the year, 10 Man Of the Match Awards, scored over 8700 Test Match runs and who shares the rare joy of his match winning innings of 281 against the most dominant team of our era – the Aussies, undoubtedly, Laxman deserved more. Even if Sachin Tendulkar is caught sneezing inside his home, it gets much more media coverage and publicity.
Woefully, even after serving the national team for more than 16 years, Laxman hardly enjoyed the popularity, media coverage and ardent fan base like Sourav Ganguly or Sachin Tendulkar. Even a cricketer like Virat Kohli has a much larger fan following as compared to “The God of 2nd Innings” who interestingly had a second innings average higher than his first. One of the greatest match winning players, VVS was far underrated by his fans. Even to this day, even though Dravid is another player who shares his ‘underrated’ tag, yet people used to look upto Dravid at the times of adversity, keenly hoping that he will rise up to the occasion and deliver.
I have always believed that the true greatness of a sportsman could be concluded only in the manner he/she reacts to the unfavourable conditions, challenging opponents and response to critical adversity. Laxman matches up all these conditions comfortably with the Australians, the best team in the business getting the best out of him- a total of more than 2000 runs amassed against one of the best bowling attacks of the last decade, taming the likes of McGrath, Lee, Clark, Warne, Gillespie and Kasprowicz, at an outstanding average nearing 50, better than his career average of 46.
For me, VVS has always seemed like a very shy, introvert and a no-nonsense cricketer in the true sense. While others are busy signing big advertisement deals, I don’t remember seeing him in any, perhaps I could be missing a couple or so. Laxman never remained in the spotlight and silently went about his job, trying to put the team above anything else and placing his personal statistics on the sideline. Always cool as a cucumber, when I think of Laxman losing his cool, the instance that abruptly erupts in my mind was the 2010 Mohali Test, once again against the Aussies, where he went a bit crazy on Pragyan Ojha after seeing him run between the wickets, when Laxman was making India inch towards a thrilling victory, scoring an innings of 73*, battling terrible backpain and cramps- another instance depicting a masterpiece of a Very Very Special Warrior.
Another of his finest knocks was the 148 against the Kangaroos in the 2003-04 at Adelaide – a series in which the hosts agreed that they did not know where to bowl to him! Another one of the gems- a 91 against the Kiwis in 2010 proved that VVS is no weaker player against other teams- again being the unsung hero when India were reduced to 15/5. We only consider Laxman’s batting but seldom do we notice that he has been one of the finest slip catchers – nailing 135 catches in tests.
At his sublime best, in the words of cricket writer Sambit Bal, Laxman is a sight for the gods. Wristy and sinuous are the best words to describe his batting style, like his idol Azharuddin, and he possessed a rare gift of being able to play the same ball on both sides of the wicket. Laxman has never been an outstanding runner between the wickets, but that was replaced by his ability to be the saviour of Team India. With numerous frustrating twenties and thirties in the ODI’s, Laxman failed to properly cement his placed in the one day side. If asked what would it be that he regrets in his career, I am sure his top priority would have been to be part of the 2003 World Cup side. It’s sad to see a player of such value not having been a part of that squad.
After Laxman’s retirement, I don’t know if you agree with me or not, but the era of classical test batsmen is now finally over after the departure of Dravid, and the Hyderabadi batsman. But as the Bhagavad Geeta says -” The World was there before you arrived and will exist after your departure”, similarly test match cricket was there before he arrived and it will exist even now, after his departure. But there’s a difference! It will never remain the same.
Farewell VVS & Thankyou for the memories! You’ll be badly missed!