Indian cricket August 21, 2012

How an epic at Eden touched a generation

VJ Subbu
Belonging to the increasingly dying tribe of the artist, was VVS Laxman. Very Very Special, indeed, and a saviour of India on many occasions

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.