November 11, 2010

'Nothing beats playing at home'

Fourteen years into his career, VVS Laxman is finally set to play his first Test in Hyderabad

As kids we all grow up with dreams such as scoring a century or destroying the opposition with the ball. An essential part of these dreams is the venue.

My first experience of playing in an international ground was at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bangalore. It was an Under-16 match but it was a phenomenal experience. To play in a ground which you see only on television, where Test matches are held, was plain exciting.

But nothing beats playing in the place where you grew up. You might ask, what is so special about playing at home? For me it is the familiarity.

Having said that, after having played at all the venues in India for more than a decade, many of them multiple times, the feeling is relative. Still, playing in a place where I was born and brought up, playing in front of my well-wishers, my mentor, my family, friends - to play in front of these people who encouraged me and were instrumental in me becoming what I am today is a very special feeling. I hadn't experienced that feeling all these years and so I was a little hurt, but now I can't complain.

The first time I watched a big match live in Hyderabad was in 1981, between South Zone and Keith Fletcher's England, Fateh Maidan (Lal Bahadur Shastri Stadium), which was just a five-minute walk from my house. I sat with my brother and the family of my neighbour, who was a member of the Fateh Maidan Club, in the stands. A few years later I watched an India-Pakistan one-dayer from the corporate box because my grandfather was the chairman of Andhra Pradesh Sports Council. Those were the two big matches I watched live before I made my international debut.

I was always a regular at Ranji and domestic matches, right from my Under-13 and Under-15 days. I remember, one time Bombay came to Hyderabad for a Ranji Trophy match played at the Gymkhana grounds. It was the first time I saw Sachin Tendulkar in person. He was the talk of the country, having made his international debut so young. We kids were practising in the adjacent nets and I managed to take a peek at him and other stars like Dilip Vengsarkar, Sanjay Manjrekar, Ravi Shastri, Mohammad Azharuddin and Arshad Ayub. They were players you normally only saw in newspaper pictures or on TV, and suddenly to see them in person was exciting. That excitement has always stayed inside me. It used to give me a thrill to be in the Fateh Maidan. Going there and soaking in the atmosphere contributed to my dreams of playing for the country one day.

Baba Krishan Mohan, my uncle and mentor, has always been an avid fan of cricket. He used to watch a lot of cricket and had seen West Indies and Tony Greig's England play in Hyderabad when he was a youngster. There were a lot of cricket pictures in his house and he had a lot of stories to narrate while I was growing up. He evoked a hunger in me and helped me achieve my goals.

For a visitor Hyderabad and Secunderabad might be twin cities, two different places. But there were no differences in the cricket in both cities. Like Mumbai has Shivaji Park, for us it is the Parade grounds, on which there are multiple matches happening simultaneously. During my days there were 14 wickets and it was chaos all around.

For me, the two most important grounds in addition to the Parade one were the Gymkhana ground and the St John's Academy. I was groomed here and realised my talent here, and it was here that I became the cricketer I am today.

The Uppal Stadium is new even to me, a local, but I'm more than eager to perform here. It is a brilliant stadium, and having played around the globe I have no doubt it is one of the best. Shiv bhai [Shivlal Yadav] has done a lot to set up this world-class venue, which has all the amenities. During the IPL games here, overseas players asked why the stadium was not a Test venue yet.

This match will be a test for both the venue and myself. I hope the crowds will come in in big numbers to watch. On the personal front, I have some unfinished business. Last time I played an international match in Hyderabad, it was against the same opponent, New Zealand. It was November 15. I had walked in to bat towards the end of the innings after Sachin and [Virender] Sehwag had scored a big opening partnership. I got out in single digits. But I have got a double-century at Uppal [224 against Rajasthan in the 2008-09 season] and I hope I can bring the same form to this Test. After the exciting draw in Ahmedabad it is an important Test match in the context of the series. If I can contribute in a win, it would be really special.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments