One of India’s greatest stylists walks away into the horizon satisfied and probably a little saddened. An often rocky road finally ends for VVS Laxman. But the smooth, wristy and graceful ba-tting of one of India’s greatest players has left such an indelible mark that it will live on forever. There was the chance for a perfect swansong at his home ground. But like a true sportsman, Laxman denied himself that grand exit. As he rightly said, “his inner voice” would not let him. It just emphasised that he left the centre stage in the same dignified way he played.
And like the slight disruption at his press conference which made him repeat his retirement announc-ement once again, Laxman inadvertently gave his detractors more fodder to feed on. Many questioned the timing of the decision. They said that he could have made the annou-ncement before being selected for the Tests against New Zealand.
Thankfully, it does not matter anymore. The fact is that these critics, some of them former Indian cr-icketers, could not even hold a candle to him. So how will Laxman be judged in the history of cricket? A total of 8,781 runs in 134 Tests at an average of 45.97 are proof enough that he is up there among the big guns. Importantly, it was the way he made them which really affirms his greatness. He had so much style and grace that even a short stay at the crease would be worth a watch.
He had such silky wrists that he could play across the line and get the ball to the leg-side boundary.His driving on either side of the wicket was joy to behold. He stood tall and his bat made a sweet sound as it sped away to the boundary.
He could also buckle down and occupy the crease when the need arose. Even then, he was never boring. Laxman maintained the tradition of Hyderabad which has contributed some of the most stylish players in Indian history.
Players like ML Jaisimha, Ab-bas Ali Baig and Mohammed Azha-ruddin are still etched in the memory of many for their elegant batti-ng. Like all genius with the willow, Laxman was besotted with inconsistency. There were periods when self-doubt overtook assurance.But to his credit, Laxman never gave up. He was also played around with, being thrusted as an opener when he preferred the middle-order.
That innings of 281 against Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001 is rated among the best innings by a player to win a Test. His innings of 167 in 2000 had already gave them notice of things to come.Australia always respected him. That in itself is a great honour because the hard-nosed Aussies treated all opposition as enemy.Laxman was part of the batting quartet consisting of Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid, who laid the foundations for India.
Statistical-minded India does not sometimes judge by quality. It will be pointed out that Laxman fell short of the average of 50 which separates good from the great. But geniuses don not need yardsticks.
However, what matters is Laxman scored when India needed most. Back in October 2010 against Australia in Mohali, India needed to score 216 to win and were tottering at 124 for eight. Using a runner because of back pain, Laxman joined the tailenders and scored an unbeaten 73 to win India the match. What more can one say.
The ultimate tribute comes from former Australian skipper Steve Waugh who said of his nemesis, “Watching Laxman in full flight is to see an artist at work”.
Goodbye Mr Grace.