August 21, 2012

Indian cricket

How an epic at Eden touched a generation

VJ Subbu
VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid after their epic stand, India v Australia, 2nd Test, Kolkata, 4th day, March 15, 2001
Following VVS Laxman's Calcutta masterclass of 2001, Indian cricketers became more assertive and Indian fans, less cynical  © AFP
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Strokes in cricket, nowadays, can be broadly tethered to two camps.

One, the butcher's camp: savage, brutal, marauding, bordering on the malevolent. When the leather is greeted by such a willow, it feels assaulted. And if it's a case where the shot is mistimed and the ball still reaches the boundary because it is muscled so, the leather feels guilty that it may have betrayed the game's interest.

The other, the artist's camp: here the ball is caressed, cajoled, stroked … Like Renaissance master Michelangelo reporting for duty at the Sistine Chapel. The field placements are petty challenges to the master at the crease. He unleashes his strokes; a little wristy glance here, a deft flick there, and by the time his work for the day is done there isn't much difference between his wagon wheel and Michelangelo's frescos.

Belonging to this increasingly dying tribe of the artist, was VVS Laxman. Very Very Special, indeed.

My first memory of Laxman is also the most enduring among many Indian cricket fans. I was in high school, taking the 'all important' board exams in the March of 2001. The mighty Australian cricket team was touring India and on a great run of wins. India had lost the first Test in Mumbai and in under three full days. The second Test was headed for a similar script and then Laxman conjured that 281 at Eden. The magic was not just limited to the pitch.

Before Laxman's knock, we didn't care too much about the score. But after Laxman's classic, I remember students coming out of exam halls shouting, "Hey, what's the score?" And they were not talking academics; you walk out of supposedly the most important exam of your life, thirsty for a Test match score! Laxman had just got the younger generation hooked to the game's most pristine format. Dravid and Laxman brought a sense of calm, hitherto unknown, to the Indian middle-order. We celebrated this by pulling off puns and one-liners such as: there is Laxman, so reLAX-MAN.

That innings impacted not just a series but played catalyst to shaping mindsets. Indian cricketers became more assertive and Indian fans, less cynical. It is up there with Sunny's heroics in the Caribbean and the 1983 triumph by Kapil's devils. It was as good as a resuscitation of self-belief that a country's sport could get.

Blokes in cricket, nowadays, can be divided between two camps.

One, the chest-beating kind: they find themselves in the limelight and seem to like it there, but sometimes it's cast on them for all the wrong reasons.

Belonging to the other, are the silent type: they mind their business, their conduct unsullied as the white flannels they don on the opening morning of a Test match. Soft-spoken gentlemen, capable of saving the team the blushes or leading them to triumph from the jaws of defeat, even if they are never credited their due.

I'm afraid this breed is heading for extinction and their art, dying. For now, I see cricketers with great techniques and talent, but sport is not always what you play but who you are. This is where we'll miss the Kumbles, the Dravids, the Laxmans. And somehow that thought leaves me feeling aged, even though I'm just flirting with thirty.

Keywords: Legends, Tributes

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Raj on (August 23, 2012, 10:22 GMT)

A very well written article.I myself was very young back then, and I remember the innings very well. It has changed the face of Indian test cricket.I am sure we would not be able to witness such a turnaround in test matches in the days to come.. Cheers

Posted by Michael Jones on (August 23, 2012, 0:47 GMT)

Excellent article. In previous eras the majority of cricketers were of the silent type: those who just got on with their job of playing cricket, without feeling the need to attract attention to themselves (of course, there have always been exceptions - WG Grace was one who certainly loved the limelight). Now, as you say, they are a dying breed. With Dravid and Laxman gone, Jacques Kallis and Alistair Cook remain as two players who value making runs above making headlines, but there are precious few others.

It is the deepest irony that, in the same week Laxman brought his international career to a dignified conclusion at the time he felt was right, a certain other player - the archetype of the chest-beating kind - has probably brought his to a premature conclusion for all the wrong reasons.

Posted by Naresh Patel on (August 22, 2012, 21:58 GMT)

Even when LAXMAN and JAFFER openned for India, one could see class in Laxman. It was then that it made me sit up and watch cricket on TV. I only ever followed it thru the internet articles and newspapers.

Posted by Moideen Museem on (August 22, 2012, 17:43 GMT)

PART 3

Today I script this scribble for the man who i always referred as the court jester of Indian cricket. Oh! Indeed he was the Jester for he toiled hard to make the Noblemen in Blue be merry and happy. What these noblemen fail to realise is that when the jester takes his leave there will none to laugh but he himself. For now he will have the last laugh on the tomfoolery all the merry men and nobles will do to fill the void.

Today as i script this scribble, i have finally fulfilled my greatest ambition. The ambition of putting up a question...... .... ....

Dear God of Cricket

The Bengal Tiger has left your Guard The Wall has Fallen The Loyal Jester has walked away The Googly is long Gone All that remains is a memory of what there were. Do you feel mortality creeping beside you?

Posted by Moideen Museem on (August 22, 2012, 17:42 GMT)

PART 2

How in the world do you hit 44 boundaries in one innings, which lasted more than 10 hours, 70 overs and almost 2 days!!

If you ask me,it is sheer impossible and yet! there it is etched into history by a two legged species that was made from flesh and bones. He made it with such ease that the very mention of this man made the mightiest of them all fell not once but over and over again.

There is always a God, then there is always the Saviour and we also have a Marauder but then all these are epitomes of men who made merry with their names.For there was one who had no name instead had the panache in which he scripted epics on 22 yards in the longest and most gruelling form of cricket with such memerising ease that the Wisden had to mention this man's 281 run epic in the same breath as the epic ones scripted by the The Don!

Posted by Moideen Museem on (August 22, 2012, 17:41 GMT)

Part 1

Magic at times is such a fluent art that we lose track of time. I am not a magic fan nor do i feel awed by those acts of magicians for i am more of a realist who believe it is better to make merry with the skills people can understand rather than with the ones that make them duffers. Having said that I end my statement on this word called Magic.

Now, let me talk to you about something that many people (with a willow and cork brain) associate with magic. Strangely, magic is more of a dergatory compliment for this something. I would say it is more of Sheer Bliss.

VVS Laxman. Yes, i am late. He said good bye more than 48 hours ago and now here i am scribbling a tribute to him. I apologize for ever since i heard your retirement i was drooling over three masterclass theater forms that etched a 281 (in 2001), 148 (in 2003) and a 73 (in 2010) in three very magical cricket scorecards.

Posted by Mudit on (August 22, 2012, 12:32 GMT)

"Before Laxman’s knock, we didn’t care too much about the score. But after Laxman’s classic, I remember students coming out of exam halls shouting, “Hey, what’s the score?” And they were not talking academics; you walk out of supposedly the most important exam of your life, thirsty for a Test match score! Laxman had just got the younger generation hooked to the game’s most pristine format. Dravid and Laxman brought a sense of calm, hitherto unknown, to the Indian middle-order. We celebrated this by pulling off puns and one-liners such as: there is Laxman, so reLAX-MAN."

This paragraph almost had my hairs standing...it feels so ecstatic to just remember those school days....and cricket then....

Posted by Tarun Chadha on (August 22, 2012, 10:48 GMT)

VVS Laxman is of the best batsman of his time. He does not hold any major record but he served Indian cricket with utmost passion and will. He has won matches for India which were a certain defeat and they helped re-build the Indian test cricket. May God fulfil all his wishes and he achieves success in what ever he does now.

Posted by Vj Subbu (Author) on (August 22, 2012, 9:17 GMT)

@ AKPY - Your input on not pegging 'greatness' to one trait as 'soft-spoken',etc is SPOT-ON. Diversity of characters is a strength and great guys each have their USPs. However the essence of my article is that - DO TALK. DO EXPRESS YOURSELF. BUT WHEN DOING SO,KINDLY ENSURE YOU, YOUR SPORT, THE COUNTRY YOU REPRESENT ALL ARE PUT IN THE BEST POSSIBLE LIGHT. That does not mean we don't make mistakes. But learning and positively moving on is the motto here. Thanks again.

@ ALL - Thanks for sharing the journey.

Luv, Vj;)

Posted by Sambit on (August 22, 2012, 5:14 GMT)

You stole my thoughts man! I belong to the same generation, my 10+2 board exams overlapped with that famous Border-Gavaskar series. Listening (!) to the live commentary on radio (we did not have a cable connection at home, and there was no question of going over to a friend's for six hours to watch a test match when you are supposed to cram), I remember literally shivering with excitement during the post-tea session on day 5 as the endgame was on. But the magic had happened the previous day. Laxman and (lest we forget) Dravid had already restored our faith in Cricket, Cricket at its magical and sublime best.

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