Master of elegance

Criticism by some former cricketers forced Laxman to put full stop to his international career

What the world’s most feared bowlers couldn’t do, a couple of syndicated columns by former cricketers have accomplished. He could negotiate vicious turn betraying few signs of nerves and he would dispatch a nasty bouncer to the fence with equal nonchalance.

 VVS Laxman has produced many match-winning knocks for India with grit and grace. FILE PHOTO

He could script one match-winning innings after another like a magician pulling a rabbit out of the hat and he could withstand unbearable physical pain for hours on end to take the team across the line. He couldn’t, however, come to terms with criticism that was far from being honest.

The sensitive person in VVS Laxman quite easily felled the fierce fighter that we often saw on the field.

Admittedly, Laxman’s batting had lost some of its earlier edge which got only accentuated because of India’s eight Test defeats in a row spread over England and Australia. He is pushing 38, but it’s not like there are dozens of deserving youngsters waiting for his exit.

With the sole exception of Virat Kohli, none of the youngsters has come anywhere near inspiring the confidence of either the selectors or the captain, while the highly-rated Cheteshwar Pujara was already in the Test squad for the New Zealand series as was Suresh Raina.

Which youngster then was Laxman blocking? Rohit Sharma, who couldn’t register a single double-digit score on the recent tour of Sri Lanka?

Rahul Dravid has already retired and it was just a matter of when rather than if with Laxman would. Surely, he wasn’t going to play beyond the Australian series at home early next year, depending on his form against New Zealand and England in the following rubber?

With only three other senior players left in the side, and injury worries constantly on the radar given the hectic schedule, it made perfect sense to have the experienced Hyderabadi in the squad even if the next three important series are being held in India. Unfortunately, it’s not going to be so.

Laxman, like any other cricketer, isn’t above criticism. However, much as they are touched by praise from fellow cricketers, they also get touchy when ex-players train guns at them, particularly so if the criticism is tinged with a perceived hidden agenda. Given his mild nature, it wasn’t surprising to see Laxman take the extreme step, much against the advice of his family and friends.

Is there then the genesis of Laxman’s school of batting because only a sensitive person like VVS Laxman could have batted so sensuously?

At his best, Sachin Tendulkar will inspire awe; Dravid unadulterated admiration while someone like Sourav Ganguly would leave you with a sense of great satisfaction. But Laxman? He is the wizard who could cast a spell with his sublime batting.

No batsman of his generation has produced as many works of pure artistry as Laxman.
From the once-in-a-lifetime innings at Eden Gardens in 2001 against Australia to his match-winning 96 at Kingsmead against South Africa in 2010, the right-hander has left an indelible mark in almost all parts of the cricketing world and has earned thousands of fans for a lifetime in the wake, none so more adoring than the Australians though.

Barring Tendulkar, no Indian batsman has tormented the Australian bowlers as much as Laxman. Where the Mumbaikar decimated the Antipodeans with his ruthless approach, Laxman killed them softly, his batting being the embodiment of both forceful grit and fluid grace.

While his epochal, series-changing 281 in Kolkata easily towers over the rest, Laxman has produced several more knocks of great significance which endeared him to Australian public while at the same time making him the most dreaded batsman for their bowlers — be it the 148 at Adelaide and 178 at Sydney in 2003 or the match-winning 79 at Perth in 2008 or for that matter his unbeaten 73 at Mohali in 2010 when he battled severe back pain to guide India to a thrilling win.

That the Aussie players openly admitted that they feared Laxman more than Tendulkar is the ultimate affirmation of his dominance of Oz.

Other teams were only less fortunate as he reeled off match-winning knocks from Colombo to Kolkata and from Delhi to Durban, reviving hopes in lost causes in the company of lower-order batsmen. No top-order batsman has given as much confidence to tail-enders as Laxman, and no tail-ender has felt as much confident as while batting with him.

As a member of the Golden Generation of Indian batting, Laxman has long assured himself a place among the modern greats of the game. And if there is one glaring hole in his otherwise illustrious career, it’s his 17 Test centuries, a number that hardly does any justice to the quality of his batsmanship. But then Laxman should be looked at as a whole, which is always greater than sum of its parts.
Thanks for very very special memories, VVS!

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