VVS Laxman retires. The Cricketeratti comes alive. Tributes pour in.
I ponder over the career, that was chequered with some of the most glittering moments of Indian cricketing annals and find an amalgam of evens and odds.
Evens– for the obvious reasons of the wizardry that he brought to the game with his magic wand, for the doggedness that will be a lesson of test batsman-ship for many years to come, for the sheer creativity that enabled him to tame some of the most potent attacks in their backyard, for the never say die spirit that saw him as that last thorn in the opponents’ flesh (one that inevitably got stuck) and that consummate team man, who any skipper would want by his side, going into any tough battle. Records justify (or may be not fully) the evens – 16 years, 8000+ runs, 100+ catches, Australia being the most favored opponent, author of the most significant sonnet in the poetry called Indian Cricket (281*), gaining respect of all opponents under the sun …and the list goes on.
The more I think of this, I feel sad that VVS had to play cricket in this era where he had to coexist with the holy trinity, which in itself was a matter of immense pride and pressure. That, he was the one who faced the “gun” on most occasions isn’t a matter of surprise. It will always be a matter of ambiguity, how many times did he bite the bullet, on someone else’s behalf. Gods cannot be reprimanded, you see. The mortals should be – and thus the eternal mortal died numerous deaths, only to be reborn and prove himself yet again. The man with all the possible Gods in his name, had to bow down to the whims and fancies of the cricketing gods … ironical.
As for the odds – VVS never came in with a godfather. He hailed from a region where for the last 2 decades there hadn’t been a credible Cricketing Association in practice. He came in on his own and tried to make a mark on his own brilliance. That doesn’t work here, does it? History has time and again, chronicled such instances, where the deserving talent without a backer, is sent packing. But then he was Very Very Special, wasn’t he. He chose to do things, that were so un-Indian and forced people to keep him. Twice against Australia (in 2001 and in 2004), he forced his way into the ODI squad without being named in it initially on the basis of his form in the Test series – and delivered, big time. Yet, when a series went awry the one name that was deliberated for maximum length was his and sadly, on several occasions he did fall by the wayside. While we can whine about the system and its crazy ways, VVS wasn’t helping his cause. The cricketing world was taking a turn where a player’s utility was defined based on the cumulative value he got to the squad. It was the age of Michael Hussey – Will bat any position in any format, Can bowl if you want me to, and will field as if my life depends on it. Its here VVS was static and gave opportunity for the indifference meted out to him. The other glaring Odd, was the duration between two good periods of consistent scores – off late these gaps had started widening. There would be flurry of scores and then a long gap. And when the noose started to tighten, one more stroke of brilliance. Without any additional value (other than batting), it was increasingly an existence on borrowed time. In hindsight, after his ouster from the 2003 WC squad, I would have imagined his resolve going up several notches to enhance his value as a player – somewhere, he resigned to the fact that his future lay in Test Cricket as a #6.
Noone would ever know what was that “Inner voice” of VVS, that he underlined time and again in his retirement address. Its not easy to be a professional under the weight of continuous scrutiny with the sword of Damocles swinging like a pendulum on your head. Its commendable to applaud what he achieved in such cirumstances. He never had anyone backing him (other than some customary pro-Laxman chants). In a way it was ironical to see Sourav Ganguly ridicule the establishment, selection committee and Captain holding them responsible for VVS’s exit. Almost trying to absolve himself of what he singlehandedly brought upon this special player
- Lets face it, the 2001 Eden Garden innings – so called India’s best ever Test innings was played by VVS under Ganguly’s Captaincy, to turn around a series against Australia, propping up Ganguly’s captaincy record, in Ganguly’s home turf .. yet a few months down the line the axe fell on VVS. Where was the captain?
- 2003 World Cup, Ganguly’s show. VVS is in every ODI squad leading upto the world Cup. Yet when “the” squad is announced – VVS gets replaced with, er.. Dinesh Mongia??? “Gods” must be crazy.
- For a period of 34 months starting from the Eden test Vs Aus in 2001 to Steve Waugh’s final test in 2004 in Sydney, VVS amassed 2594 runs in 30 tests, at an avg. of 63.26, yet was the only cricketer on a perpetual probation. Where was Ganguly’s backing?
It is here, VVS’s life as a cricketer got jeopardized royally. Because, to any cricketing brain it was evident Sourav wasn’t fit to be in the Test side (If he wasn’t the captain), yet the axe kept dangling on VVS. This issue was picked up by Greg Chappell, and the rest is well documented. To his convenience Ganguly kept giving those obligatory skipper bites on how important a member VVS is without assuring him of his spot for eternity. No wonder VVS chose to talk about it (again, true to his nature, without naming names just pointing at the preferential indifference) in that infamous tour of Zimbabwe in September 2005.
Adam Gilchrist summed it up well after VVS was dropped from the 2003 world cup squad.,
“Every time he plays against us, he comes up with something special, and the next thing we read after the series is that he’s been dropped. It leaves me completely bewildered.”
The innings at Eden for the 281* will always be a jewel in the crown. However for me the innings that will be right up there would be the innings of 73* he played at Mohali vs Australia in 2010/11. Chasing a modest 216, India was at 124 for 8. With Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha (And Suresh Raina as his runner), VVS saw us through. That day he didn’t bat just for himself, he taught batting, patience, persistence etc. to the kids around him. A magical knock, that made Ricky Ponting exclaim “We were wary of VVS”.
Today, sitting in Hyderabad, the loss is much more gaping. An era has ended. A legacy of batting artistry, which was made to be Hyderabad’s domain expertise by the likes of Tiger PAtaudi, ML Jaisimha, Mohd. Azharuddin and VVS, doesn’t have any heir apparent. In 2007 when IPL was launched, the team from Hyderabad didn’t even think VVS to be an icon player, till the day before the first ever auction – and to his credit he declined to be the icon to save money for his franchise enabling them to invest in bigger names, settling for a modest paycheck – in a way summarizing his cricketing story.
Thank you VVS. You will be an inspiration to all of us who want to make our place in the sun without a Godfather
Very Very Stylish, Very Very Special & Very Very Selfless !