By Madan Mohan
I know it is fashionable to mourn the end of an era when a great cricketer leaves the stage. But some such cricketers, by historical quirk, embody the very transformation of the game they play. VVS Laxman is one such.
When Rahul Dravid, his ex-teammate and good friend, signed off earlier this year, commentators wondered whether there would be another Dravid again, seemingly blindsided to the solidity of Hashim Amla. But with VVS Laxman’s departure, it is indeed hard to contemplate any spiritual successors to his very, very special craft, save those dextrous wrists (Amla again).
It may not be an entirely complimentary thing to say, but, simply put, Laxman was a fossil even in his very playing days. And finding another of his kind may be next to impossible without another wave of drastic change in cricket. Laxman possessed many traits that made him both charming and frustrating at the same time.
His technique was a little loose compared to his more illustrious teammates Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar, and he was more likely to give up his wicket after a good start. Yet, in full flow, he was arguably more attractive and magical to watch than either and a truer personification of the Indian school of batting. His wrists confounded bowlers as formidable as the great Shane Warne as he effortlessly directed the ball to either side of the wicket at will.
And yet, his reliance on wristy elegance deprived him of many ‘limited-overs’ cricket shots. He was that seeming anachronism - a batsman without a slog shot. He made some ungainly attempts to play slog shots in his frustrating attempts to come to terms with overs limit batting, but usually longed to return to his comfort zone. He disdained singles, even if he never visibly indicated as much, and was a relatively slow runner between the wickets.
For all these reasons, even back in the late 90s, Laxman was already a freak, an anomaly. By then, overs-limit shots had already become a part of the batsman’s vocabulary and were regularly put to use. Thus, there already was nobody quite like him in cricket. Even his Hyderabadi predecessor Mohammed Azharuddin didn’t shy away from the aerial route and was very effective at finding the gaps for quick singles. Somehow, Laxman had remained either a misfit or a pristine Test specialist, devoid of any deleterious (or otherwise!) influences of pyjama cricket.
That is why this article might sound as if it is critical of Laxman, though it is not. I was an unabashed fan of Laxman’s willow artistry and accepted him for what he was with all his flaws. There was no choice in the matter. There was no point wishing he was as dogged and determined as Dravid and Tendulkar, as crafty as Michael Bevan or as flamboyant as Yuvraj Singh. Had he been any of those things, he wouldn’t be Laxman, the very special one.
Laxman possessed the rather uniquely Indian trait of reassuring not only the dressing room but also Indian fans with unorthodox methods and loose execution. Even though he looked liable to edge one behind the wicket or to pass up the opportunity to earn that extra single, he gradually became Team India’s crisis expert. Laxman was the antidote for a dismal scoreboard. India hoped, even believed, that the team would edge past the finish line as long as the Laxmanrekha hadn’t been broken, even if he had just Ishant Sharma for company. Laxman’s legacy will be a rather elegant brand of lower order resistance, which shared little in common with the dour defence of, say, Steve Waugh.
Looking at the new crop of Indian batsmen and the general direction of cricket, it is difficult to see another player like Laxman emerging anytime soon. He was like a vintage Cadillac making its way in the midst of hi-tech Japanese upstarts. Rumbling and bumbling, but majestic and reliable. He will surely be missed, and not just whenever Team India stares at a desperate scorecard again.
(Madan Mohan is a 26-year old chartered accountant from Mumbai. The writing bug bit him when he was eight and to date, he has not been cured of it. He loves music, cricket, tennis and cinema and writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake. He also writes a blog if he is not feeling too lazy at http://rothrocks.wordpress.com/)