VVS Laxman retires August 18, 2012

A wizard among muggles

To borrow from JK Rowling: in a dressing room of players of varying and outstanding gifts, achievements and records VVS Laxman was always the only magician

VVS Laxman's retirement from international cricket comes like all significant retirements do - with a wave of gratitude and a sense of impending gloom. The gloom is largely impractical because everyone - the good, the great, the not-so-good, and the downright ugly - must someday leave the game.

The wave of gratitude in Laxman's case will be tidal, given the nature of his presence in India's greatest-ever middle order. To borrow from JK Rowling, in a dressing room of muggles - of varying and outstanding gifts, achievements and records - Laxman was always the only wizard.

His announcement comes the day after New Zealand landed in India for a two-Test series. For the last 24 hours, the strongest rumour doing the rounds was that this largely ho-hum season opener would become a rousing farewell tour for Laxman. And why not? The best of his cricket has been rousing stuff anyway, so some noise and sparkle in return, as he goes, would only have been in order.

Yet, far removed from noise and sparkle, in his retirement speech Laxman talked of his "inner voice" and its call to put the team's needs ahead of his "personal aspirations" - successful home series against Australia and England. As much as the immediate effect of his retirement surprised everyone, it ideally shouldn't have, mostly because it was Laxman. As the excess and flamboyance of Indian cricket has been amped up in these last few years, Laxman has remained a man of another time, given largely to modesty and graciousness. It is what he will be remembered for by his team-mates and the crowd. That and the wizardry of his batting, with its ability to defy coaching templates and the geometry of the game, and to make the most manic of situations melt away.

Laxman spoke of the fiendish difficulty of arriving at the decision and the "internal dialogue" that went through his mind for the last four or five days. His decision was conveyed to the selectors and the Indian board only on Saturday morning. If it unintentionally left the outgoing selectors with red faces, it is hard to sympathise with them. The Indian Test team may have played badly in the last 12 months, but the selectors have been way worse.

Laxman, however, leaves on his terms, with a clear conscience and the widest, most radiant grin in the game. When he was into the first two sentences of his retirement speech, the electricity failed in the Uppal Stadium's swish conference room. As Laxman laughed, the seriousness of the announcement dissolved a little.

What triggered Laxman's internal dialogue is not known. Wherever his internal tussle came from, it led to an utterly sound decision in cricketing terms: "to give an opportunity to youngsters, and no better than against an inexperienced New Zealand bowling attack."

Whenever great players retire - and Laxman's greatness is a part of the fabric of Indian cricket more than its record books - there is much discussion about "legacy" and the last few months of their career. What usually happens is the opposite: the mind goes into high-speed rewind, the last few months, if not glorious, fade into insignificance, and all that remains is a highlights package of memories. The highlights package of Laxman's career can be stuck into Harry Potter novels, replete as it is with adventure, drama and, of course, magic.

As Indian cricket amped up the excess and flamboyance in its last few years, Laxman remained a man of another time, given largely to modesty and graciousness. It is what he will be remembered for by his team-mates and the crowd

In Laxman's decision to stick on and play Ranji Trophy for Hyderabad lies something romantic, old-fashioned and quite Laxmanesque. This is, after all, an age when cricketers focus their attention on trimming their long-format games in order to stay relevant in T20. Laxman has spent recent months in fierce training. In his last competitive fixture, in the KSCA's invitational Shafi Darashah four-day tournament, he scored 169 for the Hyderabad Cricket Association XI against the KSCA XI in Mysore as recently as ten days ago. There is no doubt that he can still turn out for his struggling first-class team, and that he could even turn its fortunes around. When he plays home games for Hyderabad now, he will bat at an end in the Uppal stadium that will be named after him. In his own retiring, self-effacing yet proud way, he is his city Hyderabad's premier cricketer, bar none.

A unique and distinct batsman, Laxman has often been revealed by his career choices. At the turn of the century he told the selectors that he was not willing to be turned into a makeshift opener, ready to take a leap of faith and fight for his place in the middle order. When the IPL was being founded, Laxman gave up his "icon" status - i.e. a 15% higher earning than the highest-paid players - so that Deccan Chargers could have more funds at their disposal during the first auction. He has never talked about what he was promised by the owners in return for surrendering "icon" status and what he was actually paid. There's a very good chance it was neither equal nor more.

India's greatest middle order is now completely disbanded. The only man left in it is the man who became its foundation - Sachin Tendulkar. He will be batting in the Hyderabad Test around a remodelled line-up. He will look around the dressing room and miss colleagues of familiar and reassuring quality.

Yet for every rookie, starting out at home is actually the most comfortable of introductions to the demanding world of Test cricket. For most of his career in the middle order, whether at Nos. 3, 5, or 6, Laxman was always up to answering the most bafflingly difficult of Test cricket's demands. No muggle could possibly replicate the wizard's batting. The least a successor could attempt to do would be to match Laxman's mettle.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Satyajit on August 22, 2012, 8:41 GMT

    A true legend. Surely one of the most artistic player I have seen play the game. A great contributor in difficult conditions. Above all a real gentleman leaving the game of gentlemen.

  • Naveen on August 21, 2012, 18:01 GMT

    Laxman a class act. Granted he had 2 bad series in a row. It happens to everybody. Dravid went through a bad patch. Tendulkar did as well. It was just that it happened to Laxman at the fag end of his career. Would have loved to see him go on a high. There are good batsmen but are they good enough to face the new ball at No 6 or play well with the tail which Laxman was a master at. Only time will tell. No 6 is as pivotal as the No 3 as on most occasions you need to face the new ball. India will go through a slump especially with most of the trusted middle order gone. Are the Kohlis, Rainas, Sharmas & Pujaras willing to take the mantle especially on overseas pitches. With our bowling attack it will just need the batsmen to fire almost everytime. With all that being said, lets just wish Laxman all the best for his life after cricket. He will be sorely missed

  • Abhinav on August 21, 2012, 15:21 GMT

    I do not think he needed to call it quits...throughout his career he has played second fiddle to dravid, sachin, ganguly....he was a batsmen with supreme gift of timing in its own class unmatched powerless drive whizzing past fielders..a majestic site ...India needed him...while sehwag shd have made way for a new opener.....sorry Laxman...nobody is going to gift u the greatness u always deserved...unless u say its mine....but u shd have played on until Sachin retired....u r no less than anybody but a scapegoat...if that is for Suresh Raina....MSD link n CSK link can be smelled....completely disagree with his retirement...if Ponting can pledge to reclaim Ashes n play on why cant u to beat Ausies and poms in India....can not believe we are so mean...cdnt find replacement for Ganguly, n now Dravid was enough but u left a gap their buddy...

  • Dummy4 on August 21, 2012, 1:23 GMT

    From MIT only the best go to NASA & u find youself along with them missing most of MIT mates too. In Nasa you find new colleages & soon u r promoted to GM Engineering Now u have reached the peak. Now what?? Now u maintain your position at peak with your expertise…but in recession due to downsizing most other Nasa colleages r fired but u r not coz u r the best & later as a result of new hiring u find yourself alongside new colleages …….This is the journey of greats, they don't miss anyone's company (So does Sachin not miss laxman, Dravid etc, generations of cricketers have come in dressing room & have gone(Shastri, Jadeja, Gangully,next will be Dhoni & Sehwag)yet he is still there & will remain there till 2015 as India's no 1 batsman bcz greats know that at the peak they will be alone. If u r good enough & r interested to work you may continue to work regardless of your age & Sachin must continue unless he finds himself among the bottom 2 batsmen as 2 positions should be for rotation

  • Dummy4 on August 21, 2012, 1:20 GMT

    Shardha has this middle class mentality & must be an avg person so she doesn't know the fast track journey of the greats & how they maintain their position at pinnacle ALONE………….E.g if u r just a great student. You r in school with your mates most likely you skip a couple of grades, leave your old mates & find yourself alongside senior grade students, then they r your new mates, then bcz of your extra intelligence teachers find that you deserve tougher assignments so they send you in section A of senior class here again lose your old mates & find new mates. Now you go into the best college & whereas most earlier mates find avg colleges hence you make new mates in new college. From your college mates only a few get admission in IIT in Comp Engg so here u again make new mates. Here again u get exceptional GPA & find admission in MIT and none of your earlier mates is here with u so u again find new mates. .contd

  • Nikhil on August 20, 2012, 20:20 GMT

    Perhaps, now we will understand where Sachin stands, now that, he has nowhere to hide amongst the 2 greats, who saved him many times with their performances. Check the records, when India've won :)

  • Sreedhar on August 20, 2012, 15:48 GMT

    Laxman True Legend....Retirement is a personal decision and I am sure it is the right time for you..!!!

    You have taken most competitive cricketing nations on challenge.. and Australia is no less...they really cherish your wicket than any one else... This Hyderabadi will definitely be missed... I am sure you will share your experience with more budding cricketers....

  • Kalyan on August 20, 2012, 15:23 GMT

    well...vvs does not have records that cannot be equalled or broken;what he does have are records that can never be matched.

  • Mustafa on August 20, 2012, 9:20 GMT

    what a batsman!

  • Tushar on August 20, 2012, 9:02 GMT

    Nice essay, Sharda. Can someone tell me if someone is going to write Laxman a tribute?

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