A surgeon of cricket - VVS Laxman
Coming from a family of doctors, one could have only expected Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman to wear the white coat with a stethoscope adorning him. But thankfully, for India and the rest of the cricketing world, that was not to be. He did put on white clothing but made sure it had the Indian logo printed on the left side of the chest. Yes, here was a man to whom team was the first and the last word. Yes, India had got its crisis man – VVS Laxman.
Laxman was truly a surgeon when it came to playing the game of cricket. He would chip the ball stylishly, flick it masterfully like an experienced medical practitioner who always knew what to do and was never in two minds. He would find the gaps and play the ball as delicately as one can. His gentleness, precision, temperament, perseverance and unperturbed outlook made for everything that a surgeon of the game required.
He wasn’t a power-hitter and never believed in applying brute force in cricket. He never punched the ball forcefully, never jabbed at it. To Laxman’s bat, the kookaburra was always the pretty damsel who would try to seduce you, lure you into making a mistake. But Laxman’s bat always knew the best. It would gently kiss the ball, give it a delicate touch and the man himself would take immense pleasure as he marvelled at his own mastery. Laxman has always been the perfect artist who could carve magic with his wrists. The only batsman in his era who could play the ball to mid-wicket and even squarer after it had pitched outside the off-stump. Such was his skill and his unique relationship with technical fluidity and accuracy, that one wasn’t surprised when his initials were expanded as “Very Very Special”.
Living in the shadows of his contemporaries (even sharing the same dressing-room with them), Laxman never really got the appreciation he truly deserved. Being a shy person, he was always the one who preferred to take the backstage and shy away from publicity. He was like the sitarist in an orchestra where his nimble but melodious strokes would be overshadowed by the vociferousness of the trumpet. In spite of being such a marvellous cricketer for his country, Laxman never played a single World Cup match during his entire career spanning 16 years. But one would never see him complaining for this, gentle as he was – a perfect ambassador to the gentleman’s game.
The Wisden Cricketer of the Year 2002, Laxman will always be remembered by the world for his phenomenal innings of 281 runs – an unprecedented feat that not only scripted a fairytale win for his country from the jaws of defeat, but also went down in history as the only Indian innings in the top ten of Wisden’s list of 100 great Test innings. But that was not the only instance of Laxman delivering in crunch situations. In fact, it had become his passion and profession to pull the team through from the most difficult predicaments. He was accustomed to pressure-cooker situations and had an exceptional ability to script victory when the team was staring down the barrel. That his mesmerizing partnerships with the tail-enders in matches like Mohali in 2010 (against the Kangaroos) earned close triumphs for his country, speak volumes about his pedigree.
For the record, the mighty Australians had always been Laxman’s favourite opponents as he had always cherished his gritty knocks against them. It was as if the Aussies brought out the best in him, as is evident from the fact that besides Eden, the SCG remains Laxman’s most successful cricket ground.
But time caught up with this grand artist as the Test matches towards the end of his career seemed to advocate that he was well past his prime. The feather touch seemed to be missing, the floating-on-the-heels was no more on display, the moving ball seemed to pose problems and the defence was getting fragile. The safe pair of hands that once made him in the slips and close-in positions dependable, had become slippery and less agile. But occasionally, he would treat the viewers’ eyes with a neat and clean stroke, showcasing feathery art of which he remains the master, reminiscing those days when he would kill his rival with a calm smile, so subtly that there would be no pain – yes, Laxman was too much of a gentleman to inflict pain even on his adversaries. When it comes to VVS, you would always like to attach the best of compliments – the most elegant adjective, the finest praise.
Averaging 45.37 from 134 Tests with 17 centuries and 56 fifties, and 30.76 from 86 ODI matches with 6 hundreds and 10 fifties, one would find nothing extraordinary in the man whose greatness lied beyond mere statistics. Mostly batting in the lower middle-order, Laxman carried on most of his innings with the tail-enders, and none who hasn’t seen the artist at work would realize the beauty and the sensation behind it.
Yes, VVS Laxman had been magnificent every single day till his retirement on 18th August, 2012 marking the end of a magical era. Never mind his actual name, he will always be fondly remembered by the worshippers of the sport as the Very Very Special One!