His own man

VVS Laxman
Sourav's batting is a unique mix of touch and power. When he plays those drives on the off, it's all touch, all elegance


VVS Laxman: " The great thing about Sourav is that he doesn't let any criticism bother him. I think that was evident right from the time he made the century on debut at Lord's" © Getty Images
 

The first time I played with Sourav was in 1994, in a zonal match in Jamshedpur. I had heard a lot about his elegance, and about how strong he was on the off side, but in that particular match he didn't get a big score. The following year, again in the zonal tournament, we met in Lucknow. And again, he didn't get too many - but he did clean bowl me! Since then, of course, I have often had the pleasure of watching him from the non-striker's end.

If I had to sum up Sourav's batting, I would say that it is a unique mix of touch and power. When he plays those drives on the off for instance, it's all touch, all elegance. Timing is his gift. I think that is something one is born with. If at all there is a secret to timing, it is to play the ball early, and Sourav does that.

On the other hand, he has the ability to not only clear the ropes but even the stadium. Right from the start he has had the ability to hit long.

Against spin, my god, he is really a murderer! I have seen him badly dent the careers of some spinners in domestic cricket. There was this left-armer, Sukhvinder Singh, playing for Assam, who was selected for the Challengers in 2001, before the home series against Australia. Sourav just destroyed him, hitting him for more than 30 runs in one over. Nobody heard of poor Sukhvinder after that!

I think playing spin comes very naturally to Sourav: you should see him in the nets. He has that wonderful bat-swing and follow-through, and, just as importantly, the belief that he can clear the boundary whenever he wishes to.

I know he has faced a lot of criticism while batting against fast - especially short-pitched - bowling but honestly I think that's unfair on him. If you can score a hundred at the Gabba, it's not possible that you are unable to play short bowling. I think what happens is that sometimes batsmen go through a phase where they get out in similar fashion a few times, and the impression remains in the minds of people for a long time afterwards. I have seen him play the pull convincingly on many occasions. He certainly did so in Melbourne, when he returned to the crease after having taken a blow to the head.

The great thing about Sourav is that he doesn't let any criticism bother him. I think that was evident right from the time he made the century on debut at Lord's. He is his own man, and an intensely determined one. He always speaks his mind, and doesn't mind throwing the challenge to fast bowlers with his statements. After all, if someone can step out and hit fast bowlers for six over point or long-on, then there is no reason why he should be intimidated by them.

As a captain, he always tells the batsmen to go out and play their natural game. He will never, for example, tell Sehwag to play defensively. He believes that international batsmen should stick to the formula that has got them that far. He is always encouraging the batsmen, reminding them of past successes.

And he has played a few captain's innings too. The 144 at the Gabba was such a positive knock, right from the start. We had to make a good beginning to the series, and Sourav led by example. I can tell you that it really gave the dressing room a lift, knowing that if we played our natural game we could do well in Australia.

He played some really good ones on the West Indies tour of 2002 as well. The two of us had a significant partnership in the second innings in Trinidad. We had to grind out the runs. A big partnership was essential under the circumstances and the wicket was not ideal for strokeplay, with the ball not really coming on to the bat. I wish I could have stayed there longer with him, because he remained not out on 75 - but the important thing is that it was enough for us to win the Test. In the next Test, in Barbados, he batted beautifully in both innings, but unfortunately there was no support for him. I still remember that six he hit off Mervyn Dillon; it landed on the roof of the stadium.

Finally, I'd like to say that Sourav is among the best one-day players I have seen. He has the big shots, and he's worked out his game inside out. He knows when to charge, when to push the single. And he has mastered the art of making hundreds. When he plays like he did against Sri Lanka in the 1999 World Cup, or against South Africa at the ICC Knockout, he makes batting look like the easiest thing in the world. By the time he finishes, that record is going to look phenomenal.

As told to Rahul Bhattacharya. This article was first published in Wisden Asia Cricket magazine, August 2004