Vangirappu Venkat Sai Laxman is like the Aditya Chopra of Indian Cricket. He is media shy, rarely gets animated and above all unassumingly produces masterpieces that would become part of folklore. The Australian media might have termed him as Very Very Special, but as I read yesterday, the Australian team surely finds him Very Very Sickening.
167 in a losing effort at the SCG in 1999 marked his arrival on to the big stage even though he made his debut in 1996. I remember waking up early that morning and telling my dad that VVS plays so much like Azharuddin, when Laxman pulled a ball from outside off to the long end on the leg side as if it were in the book. Such shots were never there in the book and will never be. You need to be a VVS to play them.
If you look at Laxman’s statistics, you will not be amused. With around 7000 test runs in his kitty at an average of 45 when the industry average so to speak is 50, Laxman goes beyond those statistics every time he walks in carress the ball on the leg side from outside off. It gives me goosebumps.
Laxman’s ODI record again is poor in comparison to the Industry standard. 2338 runs in ODI fail to take into account his centuries in Australia when every other player was struggling like a guinea pig in a cobra’s mouth. To top it, an average of 30 along with Greg Chappell ensured this Hyderabadi Biryani was never a part of fast food cricket. Actually for us purists, his test innings will keep us happy high for times to come.
VVS has never complained at being dropped like Yuvraj. Instead he has gone back to the grind and come back only stronger. Infact,Laxman who was being forced to open for India early on in hi career decided himself he’s a better middle order player returned to first class cricket & got back as a middle order bat. I’m guessing it’s a generation thing – Fab 3 of the Fab 4 always made it back to the side everytime they were thought to be down and out.
Recently, his 73 not out against the Australians at Mohali battling excruciating back pain is a symbolic event in Indian cricket. It reminded me of Anil Kumble against the West Indies when he came out with a bandaged head and removed Lara with a straight delivery that hit him on the legs. Similarly his hundred against the Sri Lankans showed why he is like a good bottle of wine – getting better with age.
No VVS Laxman article is ever complete without the mention of his 281 against Australia at the Eden Garden in Calcutta. Below is a background on the situation & the series –
In the first test at Mumbai, India had pegged back the Aussies to 99 for 5 after scoring a paltry 176 in the first innings. Adam Gilchrist walked in at that time to join the lanky Matty Hayden. Sourav Ganguly made one tactical error in that series & it was this. He gave the ball to Sachin Tendulkar at this time & he was pasted for two boundaries by Gilly, which cooled the nerves if any. They went on to play freely both collecting three figure scores and in turn laying the foundation of famous 16th continous test win for Steve Waugh & Australia.
The visitors arrived in Calcutta to play at the Mecca of Indian Cricket – The Eden Gardens. Harbhajan Singh picked up a hat trick on Day one but Steve Waugh remained unfazed to take his side to a respectable 445. India folded up yet again for 171 this time but VVS had scored a 59 with a strike rate of 70 studded with 12 boundaries. Sourav would now make the bold move of sending Laxman ahead of dependable Dravid at the fall of Sadagopan Ramesh. With fall of SS Das with the score at 97 & 115 when Sachin would choke again, Sourav walked in and scored a breezy & uncharacteristic 48 only to fall when the score was around 230. Story goes like this Glenn Mcgrath asked Sourav, “Hows Nagma?”, came around the wicket & Sourav edged one to Gilly. Rumours galore.
Rahul Dravid would walk in at that time and become the perfect partner to the brisk scoring pattern of VVS Laxman, who was looking at the ball as if it were a football and hopelessly crashing them on either side of the garden of Eden. India would end the day 254/4 with Laxman picking up his first three figure score of the series.
On the famous day 4th day, Laxman would dance down the track to Shane Warne that would remind you of Navjyot Singh Sidhu(the best player of spin I have seen), only classier. He pulled Kasprowicz, Gillespie & McGrath haplessly. Dravid on the other hand played the quiet hand. 180 runs coming out of that quiet hand big enough to be called a Full House incase you’re a poker fan I say.
Laxman ended that day 275* surpassing Sunil gavaskar’s long standing record of highest individual test score of 236*. In those times 200’s were rare. Many had come close to Sunny boy including Sachin with 217 the year before, Vinod Kambli twice with 224 & 227 & even Manjrekar Jr. with a 218 but it was the magical Laxman who would go ahead.
Laxman got out the next day after scoring 281 after scripting the greatest comeback by a team in a test match. In the face of adversity, Laxman rose up as a hero & along with Rahul Dravid destroyed the tall record of Australia’s 16 continous test wins. It is a scene that can surpass many a great cricketing moment.
India went on to win the Third Test & the series with two new heroes namely VVS Laxman & Harbhajan Singh.
This is the story of a cricketer I have held in high regard all through his career. This is the story of a cricketer I have told many a people being the eccentric I am. This is the story of the Very Very “Simple”, “Selfless” “Stylish” & “Special” Laxman.