August 19, 2012

Indian cricket

VVS Laxman, the artiste

Nikita Bastian

With VVS Laxman’s exit, one of Indian cricket’s most glorious chapters of aesthetic batting has shut, says Vijay Lokapally in the Hindu.

Those breathtaking flicks and nudges, those majestic drives and the nonchalant pulls, he had come to master them all. At a nets session one remembers coach John Wright calling a young batsman and telling him, “Watch him, but don’t try to imitate. Only VVS can play them.” Yes, only Laxman could have played with such imperious dominance ... His batting was so strikingly contradictory to his character. Off the field he couldn’t hurt a fly but Laxman, the batsman, could destroy the most-famed bowling attacks. And here too, he would carry on the job in a manner that left even the opposition admiring his art.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan, in his blog, on how Laxman made the impossible seem possible, time and again.

He was like those fairies in tales, divine beings that would grant you wishes. You could ask for something you had been wishing for a long time, something you thought you would never see on a cricket field. And he would make it happen. Not once, not twice but over and over again. He heard your inner voice. And he responded with a magical touch.

Everything Laxman did looked effortless, but that shouldn’t fool anybody into thinking that he was too casual, says Suresh Menon in DNA.

For someone who played 134 Tests, Laxman, amazingly was never in the running for the captaincy; he was never in a World Cup squad; in his early years he wasn’t even a certainty in the team. That a batsman of such obvious class was often challenged by lesser men and one-Test wonders for a place in the squad was testimony to the short-sightedness of the selectors. Perhaps they equated effortlessness with lack of effort.

Javed Sayed, in the Economic Times, on the significance Laxman's knock in that Kolkata Test had on Indian cricket.

The importance of that knock cannot be overestimated. The match fixing scandal of the 1990s was still looming large. Sourav Ganguly had taken over as captain a year ago. John Wright, as the new coach, was discovering the strange ways of Indian cricket. Harbhajan Singh was a talented but wayward youngster. India had been mauled by Australia in the earlier Test in Mumbai and was facing a follow-on in Kolkata. But as Laxman caressed and stroked the ball to all corners of the Eden Gardens on the third and fourth days of the Test match, and took the fight out of the Aussies, so many things fell in place for the batsman and India.

Pradeep Magazine, in the Hindustan Times, says for someone blessed with divine timing, Laxman's decision to call it quits at this point raises a few questions.

A strong-willed man behind the exterior of an extremely well-behaved person, Laxman has played the game on his own terms ... Laxman to the outside world may have been a man of few words who would stoically suffer the pinpricks of the world, but deep inside he would not tolerate any perceived or real injustice done to him. It is obvious that his surprising decision to quit just days before he was supposed to play on his home ground in what could have been his farewell Test, has more to do with a sense of hurt than any planned future strategy.

Amol Muzumdar, a giant of Indian domestic cricket, in Mid-Day, remembers his days on the English club circuit alongside Laxman.

In 1995, he and I set out to England to play club cricket in Yorkshire. It turned out to be a disastrous summer for us. At one point of the tour, we were close to tears. The cricket was tough and runs did not come our way with some Yorkshiremen being really nasty. It left us crestfallen. The next time we boarded a flight for another English expedition, Laxman suggested we write down our tour aims on a sheet of paper and swear by it. “Seven hundreds each and let’s see who gets there first,” we wrote as our plane took off to Heathrow in the English summer of 1996. He ended up getting five tons with four coming in a row while I got six which was a record on the Yorkshire circuit.

Muttiah Muralitharan remembers Laxman's genius in the Indian Express.

Laxman is easily one of India’s greatest players and in my books, among the best players against spin of all time ... He had a very unusual style of playing against spin, and I knew that the only chance I had against him was early on. Once he got used to the wicket, there was no stopping him. No doosra or any other weapon seemed to work against him. He always knew what I was bowling, and was forever ahead of the game.

In the same paper, badminton champion Pullela Gopichand tells Shivani Naik about growing in stature as a sportsman from Hyderabad alongside Laxman.

“They dreaded running into this big barrier called Laxman. Our bowlers would talk about avoiding his school in the knockouts fearful of his big scores,” Gopi remembers, of a rival at the fiercely contested inter-school championships in Hyderabad. “We travelled together to competition venues in our school days ... ” Only a year older to the rising cricket star, Gopi was to find his ultimate glory reflect in a pair of equally kind and tenacious eyes — VVS Laxman’s. And at almost the same time, in that glorious week of March a decade and half later, in 2001. The ace shuttler cornered the hallowed All England title on March 11 that year, the same day the famous Eden Gardens Test against Australia got underway.

Dileep Premachandran, writing in The National, recollects Laxman's unproductive period under Greg Chappell, who wanted him to become more athletic, and the good run again under Gary Kirsten, indicating the batsman was at ease with coaches who respected his value to the side.

His most forgettable phase came during the two years when Greg Chappell was coach. Ironically, when we spoke in Sydney after the 178, he had expressed his wish to pick Chappell's brain. As coach though, Chappell focussed almost exclusively on Laxman's fitness issues and lack of athleticism, forgetting the many other qualities he brought to the team. Once Chappell left and Gary Kirsten took charge, the runs started to flow again. It was no surprise that Kirsten chose the Wright method rather than the Chappell one. He could be critical of players, but he never questioned their ability in public.

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Nikita Bastian is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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