Heart vs Mind: Trauma of a long-standing VVS Laxman admirer

With the stakes so high at Perth, VVS Laxman’s genius would definitely be elevated to the peak of his poetic powers from where it would take a miracle to dislodge him. And even if he did lose his wicket, and thereby I my life, my last moments would be filled with the visual delights of wristy magic — a sensual enough feast to allow me to die with a smile on my satisfied lips © Getty Images

VVS Laxman has scored 253 runs in his last 12 overseas innings. Arunabha Sengupta wonders whether this is the right time to blood Rohit Sharma at the expense of the veteran artist while retaining Virat Kohli in the line up.


“It was as if I had killed a dove,” recounts Arthur Mailey, when speaking about his googly that got the wicket of his hero Victor Trumper in the midst of a beautiful innings.


As I write this piece, I feel the same loathing for my fingers – for daring to hint at replacing a master whose sublime strokeplay has for long held me in paroxysms of ecstasy. When asked the popular cricket lover’s question, “who would you pick to bat for your life”, I generally answer VVS. With the stakes so high, his genius would definitely be elevated to the peak of his poetic powers from where it would take a miracle to dislodge him. And even if he did lose his wicket, and thereby I my life, my last moments would be filled with the visual delights of wristy magic– a sensual enough feast to allow me to die with a smile on my satisfied lips.


Yet, I insist that if the batting line-up is to be tampered with, the axe should not target the naive neck of the inexperienced Virat Kohli, but the long-serving one of the enchanter from Hyderabad.


Warning signals


On paper Laxman averages just about 40 since 2011, low by his very, very special standards, but a decent enough number to stall uncomfortable questions. But, on closer scrutiny, the figures reveal cracks and fissures, glimpses of a peeling foundation, desperately needing the divine brushstrokes that lent the Indian innings the differentiating flourish for so long.


The average leans heavily on the two unbeaten innings of 58 and 176, scored against a weak West Indian attack on the home wickets of Delhi and Kolkata. More significantly, his overseas record since the England tour show paltry returns of 253 runs in 12 innings. The elegance and class has never been in question, but the net results have been negative.


People may argue that this is not new; he has never been successful in England. True, his technique of using the depth of the crease for that extra fraction second to counter the pace has always brought about his downfall against the swinging delivery. In all Tests in England he averages 34. So, this summer of grief should not be viewed as the beginning of the end of this fantastic performer. On the other hand, that same technical aspect has been an asset on bouncy wickets.


And did he not end the Sydney Test looking increasingly comfortable, coming back into his groove? Will not including another inexperienced batsman at the fast and furious Perth at his expense add a new chapter to the continuing tale of woes?


All that is probably true – although the second innings at Sydney was perhaps helped along by the curious move to bring on Nathan Lyon even as Laxman struggled early on against the fast bowlers.


Even then two arguments – while perhaps bordering on the blasphemous – may be worth considering.


Forward, not back


During the last Test before this tour, Virat Kohli battled his way to a mature 63 during India’s famous chase at the Wankhede, before falling to the mind games of Darren Sammy at the doorstep of glory. On his way to the exotic continent, he was being touted as the most deserving in line to step into the august shoes of the three amigos in the middle-order. It will be a huge, huge step backward if this young man is dropped from the side after only two Tests.


If we care to look back in time, none of the middle-order maestros who still hold the innings together set the Murray on fire during their first two Test matches in Australia. What a loss it would have been for cricket if VVS Laxman himself had been dropped from the side after the second Test at Melbourne in 1999. Till then he had averaged 24 with a career best of 95. However, in the third Test at Sydney, he gave the first indication of his prodigious powers with a scintillating innings of 167.


The second point to note is that VVS has not performed on fast, bouncy wickets in the last twelve months. His failure early last year at Kingston was surprising, and the couple of quick surrenders in Melbourne raise grave concerns.


It adds to the clamour that has been raised ever so often in the recent past. Should we not look at the future, at new parts to be installed as the immortal middle-order machinery chugs along the last few miles of its wonderful journey? This situation with nothing to lose may be tailor-made to affect that change, restraining our understandable emotions with an eye on the long-term perspective – and adding the fresh flavour of Rohit Sharma in the middle of the action.


On the lightning quick Perth wicket, with a battery of young fast bowlers homing in for the kill, balls zooming past the chin, it will perhaps be baptism by fire. But, young men waiting in the wings do need to be ready for exceptional challenges to replace names that have been etched in gold in the history of batsmanship.


Oh to be proved wrong!


Cricket forecasts have forever been double-edged swords, in constant threat of ending up abominably askew. Ian Chappell will perhaps readily testify to this danger that accompanies the job.


This writer is well aware of the perils of prediction, but even as his cerebral reasoning argues for the omission of the artist from the line-up, his heart will perhaps leap in raptures of delight if he sees VVS Laxman striding out at the WACA, proving all the arguments wrong with yet another esoteric exhibition of his artistic blade.


(Arunabha Sengupta is trained from Indian Statistical Institute as a Statistician. He works as a Process Consultant, but cleanses the soul through writing and cricket, often mixing the two. His author site is at http://www.senantix.com and his cricket blogs at http:/senantixtwentytwoyards.blogspot.com)