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Anand Vasu in Dhaka
December 25, 2004
As an Indian cricket writer, there are few better things than watching India on tour. And when the tour is Bangladesh, it is obviously India winning on tour. Yet, when India had just wrapped up a comprehensive but largely unexciting 2-0 win in the Test series, it was tough to focus on the one-dayers. Not because the work was any less demanding, or because the matches were any more one-sided - if anything, Bangladesh had a better chance to make a good fist of things in the shorter version of the game - but because VVS Laxman wouldn't be about.
At a time of bounty for Indian cricketers - every one of the newcomers on this one-day tour have been guaranteed at least two matches by the captain and coach - it is unbelievable that Laxman was not given a go. It is now common knowledge that he did not want to be 'rested'. Even the remarkably media-shy Laxman went on record to say that he was remembered only when he scored runs. That no-one backed him when he was going through a lean trot and needed the support most.
The merits of his omission barely merit mention. But, because the selectors routinely seem to pick him as the fall guy, the one person to leave out when they need a spot to either try out youngsters or make way for one of their zonal candidates, it bears repetition. Not long ago - but obviously too long ago in the fickle minds of selectors - Laxman scored three one-day hundreds in the VB Series in Australia, and a further crucial ton in a deciding match in Lahore. For most in the Indian team this would have been enough to cement a place in the team.
Many reasons can be advanced for Laxman's omission, and the selectors are the obvious target. But, Sourav Ganguly has fought harder for lesser men. Could this have anything to do with the fact that Laxman's value to the team is best utilised at no. 3 and that the captain wants this very spot? This is not an effort to further conspiracy theories about unrest in the team, and yet, this is the only reasoning that bears any scrutiny. With Sachin Tendulkar not budging from the opening slot, and Virender Sehwag being a sure-shot to open, Ganguly has to bat at no. 3. Is this the real reason why Laxman is missing out?
The logic that Laxman was being rested may be good enough for the board secretary to announce soon after a selection meeting, but it will not stand up to to questioning by a serious cricket enthusiast. With a tough home series against Pakistan looming, Bangladesh would have been an ideal platform for Laxman to get some runs under the belt, and confidence going. But no, the selectors would rather plump for Dinesh Mongia and Sridharan Sriram.
Mongia has done well in county cricket, but no-one should forget he went to England to play league cricket for a little-known club team, and then got his chance at a decent level because Carl Hooper else was unavailable. He was nowhere in the reckoning then. Sriram has put in impressive performances with with Tamil Nadu and India A, and deserves another go at the highest level. But, if you sat a table with Mongia and Sriram, they would be the first to admit that they are not in the same class as Laxman. They deserve a chance, but not at Laxman's expense.
When Laxman left Dhaka, he did so in the full knowledge that he was going to return home and turn out the next day for Hyderabad in a Ranji Trophy match against Punjab, who have done exceptionally well this season. He rattled off 79 in a first-innings total of 233 and then 60 out of 149 to lead his team to victory. Will Kiran More, the chairman of selectors, please tell us why a man who was "rested" needed to go out and play for his state side?
Laxman does not need rest. Not when there is a month-and-a-half gap between this one-day series and India's next assignment. He needs time out in the middle. He needs scores. And for once he needs to be told that he is an invaluable member of this Indian team. But perhaps no-one will give him that because he is not the sort to demand it, either directly or indirectly.
His rare outburst, when he was "rested", should have been enough of a warning to the selectors. This is a man who is crying out for help, but has too much pride to ask for it. And why should he, after the matchwinning performances he has put in? It is typical of the man. Not a week ago, I tried to re-introduce myself to Laxman, thinking he may have forgotten the few times we've met. "You first interviewed me at the India Pistons ground in Madras in 1999, during the Buchi Babu tournament, and wrote something about me being an enigma," he said. That was before the 281 in Kolkata that changed his life. I barely remembered it, and yet, countless media interviews later, he did.
Perhaps that's why all of us - selectors, team-mates, coaches and reporters - take him for granted. Because he won't, for a second, blow his own trumpet at a time when, it seems, words speak louder than deeds.
Anand Vasu is assistant editor of Cricinfo.
Plays of the day from the fifth ODI in Ranchi
Plays of the day from the fourth ODI between India and Sri Lanka in Kolkata