VVS Laxman seems destined to be a man who needs to prove himself almost every time he goes in to bat in order to stay in the side © AFP

 

By Vincent Sunder

 

Rahul Dravid had just been dismissed after adding just one run to his overnight score. In pursuit of 276 runs to win the first Test at Feroz Shah Kotla, India were placed at 162 for three, needing a further 114 runs to win the match. The much-clichéd “important first half hour of the match” had started well for the West Indies. Fidel Edwards, buoyed by the success which came of a delivery that pitched and turned in more like an off-spinner, had his tail up. His first delivery, perhaps part of a bowling plan to VVS Laxman, was on the leg-stump which the batsman flicked it with ease for a boundary. Edwards kept rushing in, the reverse swing was on display and Laxman countered with stoic defence, not necessarily off the full face of the bat. Another flick off Edwards down to fine-leg boundary and a typically wristy flick to midwicket off the first delivery from Devendra Bishoo followed. Laxman had moved to 12 off 12 balls, courtesy three clean hits to the fence.

 

Four relatively quiet overs went by as Edwards continued his energetic charge. Jeff Dujon observed that Laxman was showing good technique in countering the reverse swing of Edwards, something that Dravid had failed to counter whilst succumbing in his attempted drive. It couldn’t have been a more ironical situation or statement, given that Laxman is not rated the most technically correct and Dravid, without an iota of doubt, the master technician. Cricket is, indeed, a funny game at times! Edward’s width outside the off-stump brought about a flashing drive to the point boundary, and a flick in front of square leg meant the two boundaries off Edward’s 15th over had Laxman moving to 25 off 34 balls, with five hits to the fence.

 

Less than twenty four hours earlier, some knives had been drawn out in the media after his first innings failure. Journalists and ‘expert’ netizens were expressing reservations. “No three figure knock in 28 innings since his last century back in August 2010 against Sri Lanka at Colombo”. “Averaging just over 20 in his last nine innings”. Whether it was the eagerness to infuse young talent into the side with an eye on the future, or simply making a statement for a preferred favorite, one does not know. Dependable as he has always been, Laxman has also for some reason become the most easily dispensable player in the side.

 

The fact of the matter is – yes, other than his two half centuries in England, Laxman had a very ordinary series in England. Not that any other frontline batsman, other than Dravid, had performed with great success on that tour. And since the last century against Sri Lanka in August 2010, Laxman had gone past the fifty mark nine times, twice each past the 90 and 80 figure mark. These included match-saving or match-winning gems from totally hopeless situations.

 

# Battling a back injury, Laxman bailed India out from 122 for seven to reach 216 for nine as he remained unbeaten with 73 runs to defeat Ricky Ponting’s Australian side at Mohali in October 2010. The match Pragyan Ojha copped an earful from Laxman for poor running between wickets!

 

# In November 2010, he walked in with the side tottering in the second innings against the New Zealanders at 15 for four – Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar back in the hut. Then he saw Suresh Raina depart at the same score (15 for five) and later Dhoni as the Indian board read 65 for six. The match was well in favor of the Kiwis. Laxman’s brilliant rearguard innings of 91 was only cut short by Steve Davis declaring him out when he chopped Daniel Vettori onto his pads. Test saved!

 

# Three Tests later he took on a Dale Steyn-led South African attack in Durban in December 2010. Coming in with the score at 48 for three with Sehwag, Murali Vijay and Dravid back in the pavilion, he soon saw Tendukar depart to make it 56 for four.  Laxman was the last man to be dismissed for 96, ensuring India had set a target of 303 for South Africa, a game that eventually India won.

 

# Move over to Bridgetown, Barbados in June 2011. A paltry dozen runs in the first game at Jamaica had set tongues wagging, questioning his place in the side. In walked Laxman with the score at 8 for two – Abhinav Mukund and Rahul Dravid back, which soon went worse at 38 for four with Murali Vijay and Virat Kohli dismissed. Laxman responded with 85 to help a first innings score of 201. A knock of 87 out of 269 in the second innings helped ensure a draw.

 

Laxman is 37 and has been out of the limited-overs format for many years now. There is hardly any match-practice worth the mention when he walks out to bat in a Test match. In recent times, a couple of poor knocks precede Laxman getting into his classy, match-winning or match-saving stride. What then makes him dispensable after a solitary failure or two? Is it the success of the other talented players in the shorter version of the game – notwithstanding the fact that they are found wanting in the test of Tests when given the opportunity? Or is it the age factor of the three stalwarts and the fear of the vacuum to be encountered should Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman decide to call it a day in quick succession?

 

It is worthwhile recalling Ian Chappell’s comments after his rescue act at Mohali against Australia – “Laxman has always been tactically aware; he would have been India’s best choice as captain following Sourav Ganguly’s successful reign. He will never captain the team, but he’ll forever be remembered as India’s most prolific match-winning batsman” And indeed, on the back of good knocks from the top order, Laxman played a little gem that helped India cross the line without any hiccups at Kotla and move ahead in the series.

 

He could probably now run the risk of being “rested” if a victory is achieved in Eden Gardens, Kolkata, much in the manner he was “rested” for the Bangladesh tour of 2004 when the likes of Dinesh Mongia and Sridharan Sriram made the trip! That ‘rest’ began the end of his ODI career.  His value Down Under, where the ball comes on to the bat at a healthy pace, will make it difficult for him to be dropped. But despite his stellar performances with the bat over the years, VVS Laxman seems destined to be a man who needs to prove himself almost every time he goes in to bat in order to stay in the side!

 

(Vincent Sunder aspired to play Test cricket, but had to struggle to play ‘gully’ cricket! He managed a league side to title triumph in the KSCA tournaments. He was debarred from umpiring in the gully games after he once appealed vociferously for a caught-behind decision when officiating as an umpire! After two decades in the corporate sector, he became an entrepreneur with the objective of being able to see cricket matches on working days as well. Vincent gets his ‘high’ from cricket books and cricket videos and discussing cricket)