A Very Very Special (V.V.S.)Laxman
There are Batsmen and there are artists, just like a shot that sends a ball flying over the mid-off to cross the boundary and a gentle flick of the ball from the off stump that send the ball racing to the square leg boundary . There are a lot of great batsmen with amazing stats in international cricket, but the artists are endangered species. VVS Laxman is one of those artists on the endangered list who just got extinct.
Of all the supremely gifted Indian stroke makers of the last two decades, arguably none have dazzled in quite the manner of the man dubbed ‘Very Very Special’. When in full flow Laxman’s effortless grace at the wicket is unmatched in the world game and while he hasn’t consistently matched the run-scoring feats of his contemporaries Tendulkar and Dravid (and there’s no disgrace in that), he has produced innings of such class and significance that his status as one of the modern era’s most gifted technicians is secured. Like other Indian artist of yesteryears notably Gundappa Viswanath, Azhar, and Dravid in recent years VVS would not only bring India out of its self-inflected batting woes , he would always do that in style, there was always beauty in the way he approached the job he is assigned. Wristy, willowy and sinuous, he can match – sometimes even better – Tendulkar for stroke play. His on-side game is comparable to his idol Azharuddin’s, yet he is decidedly more assured on the off side and has the rare gift of being able to hit the same ball to either side. He truly justifies his dressing room nickname “VVS…Very Very Special”
VVS affinity with Australia seems to be legendary. A lot has been said and even more written about his 281 at Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 2001, when he helped India win after being forced to follow on, and his 73 not out at Mohali in 2010, when he overcame a sore back and guided his team to a thrilling one-wicket triumph while batting with tail-enders, both against Australia. He then spoiled Steve Waugh’s farewell Test series. A backs-to-the-wall 303-run stand with Rahul Dravid sets up the famous victory in Adelaide before a dazzling 178 in Sydney and a triple-century partnership with Sachin Tendulkar gives India a chance to seal the series
The Australians give him a rare compliment by acknowledging that it is not only difficult to ball but and almost impossible to set a field for VVS, he can hit the same ball to either sides of the field with the same effort. His affinity for Australia started early. In his first outing with the India Under-19s, he averaged 110.25 in three Tests against the visiting Australian U-19 team, which includes Jason Gillespie, Brett Lee and Andrew Symonds. He ends his career next to Sachin as second largest runs scored by an Indian against Australia.
He was a master of winning loosing battles; his fourth innings specials gave us hope for a win or a draw even in some hopeless conditions. Chasing a testing fourth-innings target of 257 in Colombo, Laxman eases to an unbeaten 103. After being four down for 62, India canters to a five-wicket win. Next time it was rescuing the team from even deeper problems. Chasing 216 against Australia, India were 124 for 8 when Laxman put on his Superman cape again, scoring an undefeated 73 to steer India to a one-wicket victory. For me even his 96 against South Africa in a low scoring 2nd Innings was one that defined him as India’s finest artist. In a match where the second highest score of a batsman was 39, VVS was able to muster a 38 and 96 to secure the match for India.
He was an orthodox player with some very unorthodox shots. With a large repertoire of shots VVS could have been a great ODI player, but for some unexplainable reason he was never able to maintain his position in the team. I was really surprised to learn that in his entire test career Laxman hit only 5 sixes. It is, of course, as a classical Test batsman that Laxman will always be spoken of in glowing terms by those with a sense of art and aesthetic, beauty and poetry, perfection and style.
I believe he never got what he deserved, like the Unknown Soldier, he came and performed and went back. He was the soldier who was lost among the war heroes of his time. When the blaster, master and the wall failed, he was there to get India out of its peril. It makes me sad that he retired without much fanfare; I wish he was there to sign off in style with NZ series in India. He would always be remembered for his touch of genius and as a perfect gentleman.