Laxman always remained an unsung hero
Hyderabadi was a loyal foot soldier
It was a rather quiet afternoon ahead of India’s fourth Test against Australia at Adelaide in January, and there was VVS Laxman perfecting his craft at nets long after his colleagues had retreated to the hut.
India were trailing 0-3 in the series and Laxman’s head, as it perennially had been, was near the chopping block. But the man in the centre of the storm seemed unaffected by the hullabaloo, and even had time to crack jokes with coach Duncan Fletcher.
It was typical Laxman -- not disturbed by the loud baying for his blood, but focusing on the job at hand. In fact, throughout his 16-year career Laxman had to go through a similar situation, walking around with an eternal noose around his neck. We were quick to adore his skills, but weren’t we also a tad quicker to place him under the axe? When the top four returned in a jiffy, we needed Laxman, when our chase was in tatters, we’d asked Laxman to bat through crippling pain, when the Aussies came with their guns slinging Laxman was our shield, and when somebody needed to marshal the lower-order, we told him: ‘Laxman, you are the one for the moment.’
The Hyderabadi did all the jobs asked without complaint, even flashing that trademark broad grin. But did we show deserving gratitude to India’s disaster-management man when he was around? Agreed, Laxman was never the one who would linger around that extra second for compliments. In a way, Laxman was a cherishable anachronism, product of an era when cricket was played for the joy of it than for the monetary benefits associated with it. You can count on fingers the products he endorsed during his career, and many times he played with a bat without stickers on it.
But in our inordinate rush to adore numbers, we, unfortunately, forget to understand the real value of a batsman who fused style and steel to a nicety, a fact all the more confounding because his numbers are quite impressive -- 8781 runs at 45.97 with 17 hundres scored mostly batting at number six in the company of tailenders. Our reluctance to make Laxman share the podium with other stalwarts of his time -- Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly -- would go down as one of the greatest travesties.
There have been plenty of instances for our rather deliberate apathy towards Laxman.
He was in scorching form in the 2002-03 season, stacking up hundreds in Tests and one-dayers against Australia among others. But when the squad for the 2003 World Cup was announced Dinesh Mongia was preferred over him for the former’s agility on the field, a disappointment that rankled him for years. Laxman’s one-day career was stalled forever at 86 matches when many others received an incomprehensible longer rope.
Despite some astounding feats, some of them bordering on the superhuman like his 281 at Kolkata, we never really gave him his due respect in Test cricket as well. There was a time in the late 90s when Laxman was asked to open the innings, and he did it for the sake of team till he thought the shift from middle-order was hampering his career. Then there were countless mini-epics that revealed the dogged fighter in Laxman -- 73 against Australia at Mohali played with a hurting back, a fifty in an excruciatingly tense match at Chennai in 2002 against Australia and an unbeaten hundred against Sri Lanka at Colombo that helped India level the series.
Perhaps, Laxman too played a part in people underestimating him while making us believe that run-making was the easiest job in the world against some fearsome bowlers. Even under the cloak of a gladiator, playing under the most strenous situations, Laxman oozed class and calm, forcing us to forget the difficulty of his art.
But, now, that he has gone, it’s our turn to say, “Very Very Sorry Laxman, for not accepting your worth.” He deserves that more than statues and stands because you’ll not see another VVS Laxman!
* Test debut: November 22, 1996 against South Africa in Ahmedabad. On his debut, he makes 51 in the second innings to lead India to win.
* January 2000: He strokes an imperious 167 against Australia at Sydney, also his maiden Test hundred.
* March 2001: A landmark innings. His 281 at the Eden Gardens against Australia helped India to a series-levelling 171-run win.
* December 2003-January 2004: An in-the-trenches 303-run stand with Rahul Dravid sets up a famous victory in Adelaide before a majestic 178 in Sydney and a triple-century partnership with Tendulkar put India within calling distance of a win.
* October 2008: Laxman torments Australia again with his second double-century in Tests, which helps India amass 613 in Delhi.
* December 2010: On a green Durban pitch, Laxman crafts a 96 to set a target that was beyond South Africa.
* January 2012: After years of success against Australia, Laxman fails to make an impact in the 2011-12 series, scoring only one fifty in four Tests.
* August 18, 2012: The last act. An emotional Laxman announces his retirement from international cricket.