VVS Laxman: In memory of a very very special person
With all due respect to the present crop of talented young cricket team, the Indian cricket had been truly privileged to have illustrious and fabled batting gems. We had the sheer genius and brilliance of Sachin. There was the patience and sturdiness of Dravid. Then, there was the sheer audacity of Sehwag. However, in the midst of these stalwarts, there was VVS Laxman. He was the special one.
Having come from a family of doctors, VVS chose to listen to his heart and decided to follow his passion for cricket. Like the other gentleman from Hyderabad, he was also a classy and effortless wristy player. He personified understated and lazy elegance. He was an artist at work, who made batting look truly beautiful and enchanting.
When he was on song, he would make batting look fluid, like a smooth flowing river with nothing to stop it. The fielders their placement won’t matter. He epitomized graceful strokeplay and had a natural flair while playing his shots on both sides of the wicket. He was a sight, and a delight, to watch.
Wristy and sinuous, he could even match Tendulkar for strokeplay. His mastery and dominance over the on-side field is unparralled. He could play the ball to mid-wicket and even squarer from the off-stump. The drives on the leg-side, the short-arm pulls, jabs, flicks, delicate touches and leg-glances were enough to leave everyone in a state of trance.
As a person, Laxman conducted himself with utmost dignity, both on and off the field. Whenever he got out, he looked disappointed but never let his emotions take better of him. He was the last person whom you would expect to throw tantrums. He was also a terrific team-mate.
Dravid has stated that he had a calming influence in the dressing room, and helped to keep everyone steady. Success never carried him away, neither was he bogged down by losses. He never let pride and jealousy enter his mind. He was the only player who shed his ‘icon’ status during the IPL so that the funds can be used for mentoring young talents, and soon recused himself from the T20 altogether. He knew his limitations and he knew his strengths. Along with Dravid, he was one of the last few true gentlemen who had played the game.
However, hidden behind his mild, well-mannered and reserved nature, there was a fierce competitor, who just refused to accept defeat. This is evident by the fact that some of his stellar performances have come in 3rd and 4th innings, his outstanding ability to play with the tail-enders, and also by the fact that he has probably been the only player of his time who has not only withstood the aggression and dominance of the mighty Aussies in their prime, but he has frustrated them and ground them into submission more often than not.
As early as 1994, when he was a part of U19 squad that had toured Australia, Laxman plundered runs at an average of 110 against an attack that had Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Andrew Symonds. That was just a prelude to the hammering that the Aussies were to be inflicted upon over the next 15 years.
In 2000, while apart of the seniors team that toured Australia, he scored a majestic 167 of 198, albeit in a losing cause. Then above all, there was the epic 281 at Kolkata in 2001 which is arguably, the greatest Test innings that the modern generation of cricket lovers may have witnessed. He followed it up with scintillating 148 and 178 in Adelaide and Sydney in 2003-04 to spoil Steve Waugh farewell party as India drew level in Australia. He scored a toiling 69 on a minefield in Mumbai in 2004 to give India consolation win even though Australia tasted success in India after a very long time.
He tormented Australia again in the controversial Sydney test of 2008 with another century to put India back into the contest. In the same series he scored a gritty 78 in Perth with RP Singh as his partner. His bullying of Australia continued with his second double century at Kotla that helped India reclaim the Border-Gavaskar trophy.
The icing on the cake came in Mohali in 2010 when he put on his superman cape, never mind the sore back and excruciating pain, with India struggling at 124/8 (with 216 to win), to score an unbeaten 73 along with Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha, to script a memorable win. In all, 6 of his 17 Test centuries, and 2434 out of his 8781 Test runs, have come against Australia.
There has also been some memorable performance against other teams as well. In his debut match against South Africa, he scored an assured half-century on an Ahmedabad dustbowl and contributed to India’s win. Against the Windies in 2002 at Kolkata, he put on a double century 4th innings partnership with Tendulkar to take India to safety. He scored a sublime century against South Africa in 2009 to help India win by an innings and retain the top ranking.
In Colombo in 2010, he scored a 4th innings 103 to guide India to a challenging target of 257. He scored 38 and 96 (where no other player had scored more than 39) in Durban in 2010 to help India win cracker of a Test.
Stats do not do justice to the contribution that Laxman had in India’s rise to the top ranked Test team. His career is replete with invaluable partnerships with tail-enders that have either won, or saved the day for India. He has, so very often bailed India out of tough and tricky situation. He truly, was a ‘life-saver’ for India.
Steve Waugh iconic tribute proves the immense effect he had on the psyche of the opposition – If you get Dravid our, great, if you get Sachin out, brilliant, but if get Laxman out, it’s a miracle.