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Monday, August 20, 2012

VVS Laxman: A gentleman from another era

By on 1:29 AM

Retirements are always bitter sweet and Laxman’s farewell is no different.  It is bitter as Indian cricket is losing one of its most loyal servants – one who has served selflessly for over a decade and a half – and it is this that makes this a difficult pill to swallow.  However at the same time as farewells go, it is a time to celebrate the career of Laxman and be grateful to a man who has helped transform Indian cricket.

VVS Laxman announcing his retirement
When Laxman dressed in a formal suit, from the conference room of the Rajiv Gandhi stadium announced that he would be retiring from international cricket with immediate effect, a surprise murmur spread and emotions of disappointment, anger and frustration at the BCCI’s selection panel, gratitude for a man who served Indian cricket for over a decade and a half, admiration at the genius that was Laxman, sadness at the unfortunate ending of such an illustrious career, and a sense of worry looking at the future of Indian cricket without Laxman flooded the hearts of millions of Indian cricket fans.  Perhaps it was only fate that Laxman retired in the same fashion that he has always played cricket for India – with an axe hanging over his head, horde of criticisms and admiration from his critics and fans alike.  Whatever the circumstances be, the fact is that Indian cricket has lost one of the greatest gentlemen to have held the willow.

VVS Laxman – the man who turned his back on becoming a physician remains one of the nicest men to have ever played the game.  Laxman was part of a golden generation of Indian cricket and despite being overshadowed in a dressing room that consisted of stars such as Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tenulkar and Sourav Ganguly, he has managed to hold his own and has carved himself a place in Indian cricket’s history and every cricket fan’s heart, and that speaks volumes of this man’s contribution.

When one thinks of Laxman, immediately it’s the magic in his wrists that come to mind.  Laxman was a wizard in every sense of the word, and the only wand he wielded was the bat in his hands.  He was elegance personified and his batting had a sense of class that I’m sure even James Bond when seducing a lady would have tried hard to replicate.  It was this exquisite and graceful style combined with a solid technique that saw Laxman triumph with the bat.  A ball, swinging away at 90 MPH on the middle stump would be clipped fashionably away through midwicket or square leg as easily as a baby would drink milk.  Laxman’s magical playing style (style is an understatement) was often described to be similar to the Indian prince Ranjitsinhji and former Indian skipper Azharuddin.  Everything about his playing had a sense of royalty about it.  His often ‘lazy’ stance had a majestic and regal edge and as he waited for the bowler to run up and deliver the ball, Laxman looked lost – a wizard lost in a duel, and when the leather made contact with the wood, there was magic – simple yet indescribable magic as the ball races away to the boundary.  Laxman was an artist and he confused the pitch as the canvas, the bat as his brush and the ball as the paint.  He made the simple look so rich and complex that it took your breath away.  There was no better sight on an Indian summer than watching Laxman bat, as one slowly sipped some cool lemonade or hot chai.

Magic in his wrists - VVS plays a trademark flick.
In a team of heavy weight batsmen, Laxman was unique.  While Sehwag would bludgeon the opposition senseless as a remorseless butcher would of a piece of hard mutton, or Tendulkar chop up the bowlers in neat, small pieces as a chef would of a delicate fruit, Laxman would make fine cuts like a chief surgeon, so fine and delicate that one would hardly notice that the opposition is slowly bleeding to death. 

Laxman is credited for being the chief architect of the greatest resurrection in history since Lazarus when he helped India do the impossible by winning the Calcutta test in 2001, after being asked to follow on by the Australians.  Braving the world’s best bowling attack of the time, under extremely humid conditions, VVS Laxman batted for over 631 minutes (10 and a half hours) alongside Dravid to score one of modern day’s most epic double centuries.  His 281 consisted of 44 hits to the fence and had the Australian captain, Steve Waugh in a mess that he had 9 bowlers (except him and Gilchrist) bowl at Laxman.  History was made that day as India not only went onto win the match but also the series.  It was a feat worthy to be included in the epics alongside Achilles and Odysseus.  That innings of Laxman, heralded the dawn of a new era in Indian cricket that saw the team rise from one high to another.    

VVS Laxman - a recurring nightmare for Australian bowlers.
Laxman always had something special for the Australians and Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting must be wondering just what grave sin they had done, to be punished by Laxman.  His first century came against the Aussies – a 167 at Sydney, and it was perhaps fitting that his last test be against the team he so enjoyed performing.  Laxman was a warrior and like all great warriors, he loved fighting against the best and the Australians found that out on more than a few occasions.  In the 2003-04 series, he was again the main tormentor and the Australians slowly started respecting this enigma that thwarted them time and time again.  Steve Waugh didn’t have a dream farewell as he expected, and Laxman helped India seal a memorable overseas series – the first of many.  In 2004, he again showcased his temperament as he helped India to a win in the Mumbai test, in an otherwise disaster series for India.

Then came the slump in form and having fought his way back, in 2007, Laxman of old surfaced.  In 2008 amidst all the controversies, Laxman managed to hold India’s batting firm as Australia witnessed again his silken touch.  Same year in Delhi, he scores his second double century and again against the Aussies.  In 2010, Laxman plays an undefeated knock of 73, struggling from severe back pain that makes standing a herculean task.  Sedated by painkillers, he helps India register another memorable victory against Australia by rallying the tail on a crumbling pitch of the final day.  He showed tremendous courage and commitment and his knock of 73 was equal to that 2001 Eden Gardens knock, and Laxman's face at the end of the match which betrayed just a small smile, betrayed the pain he was trying to hide and the relief and joy of taking India to victory ruled supreme.  Laxman also had a love affair with Eden Gardens and time and time again he scored there.  His 173 against the West Indies in 2011 was another stunning Laxman masterpiece. 

Laxman’s presence in the middle had a calming effect on the dressing room, and was a player generally relied to turn a precariously bad situation into a decent or a good position.  The 2010 Mohali test where he rallied with the tail, facing the odds and a searing back was everything Laxman was.  He always put the team before himself and even in his retirement, he has stated that despite having been selected, he steps down before the New Zealand series, so that a chance can be given to blood a youngster in familiar home conditions.  Such is his selflessness.  The IPL witnessed the same, when in the first season, he declined Deccan Chargers making him their Icon Player, thereby saving the franchisee millions so they can better spend it on building a strong team.

Laxman’s fitness has come up as an issue more than once, and it was probably one of many other reasons that saw his ODI career being curtailed so early.  However, he worked hard on it and as a fielder, he was one of India’s safest houses.  He was a brilliant slip fielder, and now with the likes of Dravid and Laxman gone, the slip cordon like the batting looks empty.  He was also an equally good close in fielder with amazing reflexes and he often fielded close for the spinners pulling of stunners on a turning pitch.

It is very rare that a very good human being is also a very good cricket player, and Laxman was more than just good in both aspects.

The one thing that makes Laxman so heroic among the other great cricketers of our times is that Laxman never really belonged in the modern age.  He had an archaic charm and was one of those nice gentlemen that you’d read in a story.  He was a person too good to be true, a romantic idea if whispered would be lost forever, and yet India had the honor to have such a man don her colors and represent her with honor and dignity.

Perhaps that is what makes this retirement more tragic than others.  It’s the way that Laxman has decided to go.  For a player of his stature, the selectors must have been more patient and shown respect.  His loyalty and commitment after all was unquestioned throughout his career, and perhaps Srikanth and his fellow selectors would have done some good in reciprocating some of that.  It was disgraceful the way they handled the entire situation, and a blight on the BCCI’s part.  Its tragic to see such a illustrious career come to end like this and making Laxman the scapegoat for India’s recent failures isn’t a very productive move on the administration’s part.

Farewell to one of India's glorious sons!
Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid and now VVS Laxman have all called it a day and with it a generation of Indian cricket comes to an end.  India is yet to fill the void left by Ganguly in 2008, and now with the quick retirements of Dravid and Laxman, the Indian middle order that was once was the pride of the nation and envy of others is no longer there, and a bare emptiness remains.  The Indian bowling has never looked weaker and now the batting after a decade will finally lose the sheen of stardom it had held.  India is in for difficult times ahead as the new, young bloods try to fill up the big empty shoes in the middle order.  Only then will we fully understand what we had in Laxman and how blessed we were to witness this grand moment in Indian cricket.  The youngsters however with lofty expectations on their shoulders don’t need to look very far for inspirations. 

VVS for most reporters has stood for Very, Very Special, and as special Laxman is, it is simplicity that defines him.  He is a gentleman from another era – a regal aristocrat who believed in austerity and a wizard whose magic was all in his wrists.  The future indeed looks bleak for Indian cricket with the departure of one of India's glorious sons.


  1. No doubt that VVS Laxman was supper test player of Indian cricket team but i don't think he was better then Rahol Dravid however he played some awesome innings for the victory of India.

  2. Might it be similar ? :)) Or I am hardly mistaking?
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