Said with candour

Said with candour

Cricketing life

In cricketing amphitheatres, when a team has its back to the wall and a miracle is fantasised about, there is an immediate harking back in time to a hot and sweaty Eden Gardens at Kolkata. The year is 2001 and just as Steve Waugh’s Aussies seem poised for the kill, VVS Laxman, him of magical wrists and etching poetry with the bat, conjures up an incredible 281.

Laxman’s in-the-trenches knock bruised Australia, punctured its hegemony, and it is no surprise that this Houdini Act is often recalled. Just recently when Sri Lanka’s Kusal Perera struck an unbeaten 153 and ambushed South Africa at Durban, the references to Laxman’s 281 were instantaneous. Such is the might and resonance of the greatest innings ever played by an Indian.

It is no surprise that when Laxman decided to pen his memoirs in association with senior cricket writer R Kaushik, the book was named 281 And Beyond. That Laxman is more than that one epochal innings and despite being loved by everyone in India’s sporting galaxy, he need not always be politically correct, are driven home in a refreshing fashion thanks to his honest voice echoing the right words through Kaushik’s pen.

The author, having spent his early years in cricket writing in Hyderabad that also coincided with Laxman’s formative stage, has managed to present the protagonist in a manner that not many know. 

Laxman deals with 281 upfront, and the events that take place before and after that innings make for a fascinating read. There is turmoil and drama before that game. Spirituality, enduring friendships and a steely resolve, three elements that remain at the core of Laxman’s personality are revealed. There is a trip to Shirdi in the days leading up to a tumultuous contest. Then there is him being miffed with being forced to share a room with Zaheer Khan, which incidentally leads to the birth of a close friendship.

“When someone asks me to explain our chemistry, I really don’t have the answer. It’s just one of those things,” Laxman recalls. And more importantly, there is this angst over a slipped disc but a teary-eyed Laxman implores physio Andrew Leipus to get him fit and somehow the spine settles!

Along with Rahul Dravid, Laxman bolsters India’s second innings. A massive partnership takes shape and Laxman writes: “We kept egging each other on. And, believe it or not, I was feeling fresh as a daisy.” The stylist from Hyderabad and the doughty warrior from Bengaluru were in sync and the Australians were deflated. India posted a stupendous come-from-behind triumph and Laxman ends that chapter with these words: “Life was good.”

In the subsequent chapters he plunges into a flashback and highlights the vicissitudes of his cricketing career. Son to doctor-parents, it was inevitable that Laxman fancied a stethoscope but as he grew up, his uncle Baba Krishna Mohan inculcated in him an obsessive love for cricket. Eventually, the wiry lad makes rapid progress through age-group cricket. 

“I think of those five years between 17 and 22 as the period of aspiration, characterised by the three Ds that I have always placed great faith in – Discipline, Determination and Dedication,” Laxman writes. It was just a matter of time before he turned out in Indian colours and he remembers: “My first few months with the Indian Test team were a proverbial roller coaster ride.”

That Mr Nice Guy can take tough decisions becomes evident when he decides that he we will no longer be a make-shift opener in Tests: “I told myself that from now on, I would lead the life of a normal first-class cricketer. I would take pride in contributing to Hyderabad cricket, and play for Indian Airlines, my employers. But I would never open the batting again.”

But destiny had a different script and Laxman, the middle-order batsman, could not be denied his share of the sun. With the match-fixing controversy consuming his boyhood hero Mohammed Azharuddin, a fresh berth opened up and Laxman grabbed it with both hands. The rest of the book deals with the way his career shaped up, Test highs, ODI lows and the uncertain phase under Greg Chappell. Tersely Laxman writes: “I will always respect Greg Chappell the batsman. Unfortunately, I can’t say the same for Greg Chappell the coach.”

The book also has a searing account of the hurt he felt when he wasn’t picked for the 2003 World Cup in South Africa. It recalibrated his equation with the then coach John Wright and as the pages wind down, there are warm accounts of his marital life with Sailaja and delightful profiles of his batting mates – Sachin Tendulkar, Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and Virender Sehwag. 

There is also a reiteration of the essentially lonely lives top cricketers lead, cooped up in their fancy hotels and ordering room service. Laxman says it all, with candour and sincerity. Pick this book for a ringside view of not just Laxman but also Indian cricket from 1996 till his retirement in 2012.

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