Aakash Chopra
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Laxman the revolutionary

You could marvel at VVS Laxman's unorthodox style as long as you didn't try it at home

Aakash Chopra

August 21, 2012

Comments: 50 | Text size: A | A

VVS Laxman plays the ball to the on side, South Africa v India, 2nd Test, Durban, 3rd day, December 28, 2010
VVS Laxman was strong on the leg side because he could play very late © Getty Images
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As I look back to my first memories of VVS Laxman, a scene from a South Zone v North Zone Duleep Trophy game in January 2001 plays itself out vividly in my mind.

There were about 15 international cricketers playing in that game, and clearly the quality of cricket was top-notch. Though heaps of runs were scored, it was Laxman's love for refined cricket, which he played with the utmost subtlety and culture, and his supreme skill, that stood out in a way that it remains etched in my mind till this day. Such was his aura that a team-mate had to point out that instead of cheering for our bowlers and egging our team on, I was celebrating Laxman's fine display. It's hard to not be influenced and inspired by greatness.

Laxman had been striking two or three boundaries every over without breaking a sweat, and it felt as if getting smacked all over the park was a small price to pay to witness something truly spectacular. That's what Laxman did all his life to his team-mates and opposition - while his team-mates appreciated his craft, the opposition wished they could be on his side.

Standing in that lonely slip position that day, I was made aware of the fact that a seemingly orthodox, unadventurous-seeming, rather reticent-looking man could play revolutionary cricket; that the belief that cricket is an extension of one's personality wasn't always true. Laxman had made his nonconformist style look like a chapter from the coaching manual - one that the guidebook had been forced to include.

Working the angles
Most young batsmen are taught that the easiest way to bat is to play the ball back in the direction it came from, which basically means playing it with a straight bat. Once you grow as a batsman, you learn to play with the swing and spin, which is an extension of playing with the straight bat. You further learn to either play a little early or to delay the stroke to find gaps, but you're always advised not to play across the line or against the spin or swing.

Laxman turned these fundamentals on their head by not only showing that meeting the ball with an angled bat produces desirable results but also proving that playing with the spin and swing is overrated. Though his style of play made batting look ever so easy, if inspected in detail, it was nothing less than an engineering marvel, for he worked out the angles astutely.

You're advised not to play against the spin, especially when a bowler of Shane Warne's quality is bowling into the rough, but Laxman showed that you can, with good results, if you close the face of the bat at precisely the time of impact (and not a fraction earlier, like more ordinary batsmen tend to do, resulting in return catches). By doing so, he created extraordinary angles, piercing the well-guarded on-side field. His ability to create these angles by, at times, bringing the bat down at a slight angle, or using his supple wrists, enabled him to find gaps where others found fielders. Muttiah Muralitharan, another champion bowler, said that Laxman could potentially play shots on either side of the wicket to any given ball, which made it impossible for a captain to set fields for him.

Playing it late
Most batsmen who are extremely strong off the legs have a technical deficiency that forces their head to fall slightly towards the off side in the stance. The moment the head falls, the judgement of lines gets blurred. This results in hitting balls pitched on off-middle towards the on side. Essentially, these players' affinity for the on side is a byproduct of a technical flaw.

Laxman's preference for the on-side, though, was by design, and he was equally fluent through the off side. His supple wrists and his ability to delay a shot till the last possible instant allowed him to hit balls pitched on middle stump to the right of the square-leg umpire. This is perhaps the most difficult shot to create, because if you don't find the pinpoint precision necessary, you're doomed. You not only have to delay the shot when attempting this stroke, you also need to close the bat face completely (almost showing the edge of the bat to the bowler), and yet hit the ball from the middle.

This became a routine - just when the bowler thought the ball was going to elude Laxman, because he looked visibly late on it, the bat would come down. If Laxman had delayed his shots by even a fraction more than he did, the ball would have hit his body or the stumps. Such was his pristine timing.

Economy of movement
As expansive as Laxman's hand movements were, he was frugal when it came to moving his feet to reach the pitch of the ball, for he could make up for it with his hands. The lack of movement made him extremely still at the crease, which meant that he was rarely off balance. The lack of foot movement created room for his arms and hands to work freely, which made him a free-flowing batsman when in form. The flip side of reaching the ball with hands and not feet was that it didn't look very compact when he was out of form, like in Australia last winter.

Laxman's cricket has been a paradox of a zen-like fa├žade and a fighter's instinct within. Perhaps that's what makes him one of the most intriguing cricketers of our times. His batting has been a viewer's delight, and many Laxman innings have been spectacular cricket extravaganzas. Some of his shots deserve a statutory warning: these stunts have been performed by an expert, please don't try them at home!

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by TheGame666able on (August 24, 2012, 18:08 GMT)

Great article!Akash Chopra and Harsha are easily the best writers on cricinfo.

Posted by RanKan on (August 22, 2012, 23:50 GMT)

Good article. Getting better all the time ...

Posted by   on (August 22, 2012, 18:21 GMT)

What is your comment on Vernon Philander now, Mr Chopra. Seems you made your good assessment on him a few days too early. Vernon is full of surprises. I'm sure he is busy working on becoming the best allrounder in the world.

Posted by   on (August 22, 2012, 17:41 GMT)

It was the never give up attitude with which he played his cricket that forced me become his fan, ahead of Tendulkars and Dravids. I saw Dravid at No 3 Tendulkar at No 4, blocking the balls that are there in the slot, playing for a draw on the final day of a test. But never did I see him leave a ball when in the slot. He created his own gaps on the field. I was a small boy when he played the legendary innings of 281, following on against the huge Aussies at that time, which has been a great lesson never taught in my academics so practically to never give up on anything. Same was the passion in him when he won another game with the tail on the final day of a test, when all our Batting Stalwarts failed to face the balls. Hats Off to you sir. You have been a legend all these days and played truly and passionately for the sake of the country. You have been an example to every other player when you left your icon status in IPL just for the sake of team

Posted by   on (August 22, 2012, 14:05 GMT)

I am a big fan of Laxman and will remain .... wristy..elegance.... You are the one who never got attention of media and remain unsung hero...but who knows cricket love you most....what a player was total treat to watch. I believe that you saved us many more time than the whole team itself. You were the best in adversity You would be missed by one and ALL...ALL THE BEST MY DEAR.....wish you a happy life ahead....

Posted by   on (August 22, 2012, 11:27 GMT)

aakash chopra and harsha bhogle are the best writers on cricinfo. already got plenty from harsha, cricinfo should get aakash to write more articles!

Posted by Er-.S.R.shankar on (August 22, 2012, 10:08 GMT)

Splendid analysis of a graceful batsman. Wristy elegance was the hallmark of many Indian greats like Vishwanath, Gavaskar,Azhar,Sachin, Dravid & Laxman.Their characteristic onside flicks and drives produced copious scoring But to me two things stood apart in respect of Laxman on which Akash certainly the better judge could throw some light next time one is his relaxed stance which facilitated working the ball late either side [Saving Azharudin no Indian batsman has such a strainfree stance] The second distinguished style is his almost flat batted shots through covers off fierce fast bowling from stand on position or backfoot with less cuts or drives- a rare gift It is true that he shone only after switching over from opening position to middle order. But how many memorable second innings. Who could forget his innings aganist Srilanka in the company of Ishant and Ohja to seal victory

Akash we look forward to your every article for clinical technical evaluation & lucid presentation

Posted by   on (August 22, 2012, 9:02 GMT)

@Ahmad Uetian i feel that you dont know what is cricket and you dont know who VVS is. Please learn all these things and kindly comment. All the best.

Posted by   on (August 22, 2012, 9:00 GMT)

A wonderful article by Akash Chopra. I was reading his articles and i find he is never biased in his comments. He appreciates whoever it is and he advices whoever it is. And about VVS, Thanks for your wonderful contribution. You never got the appreciation and appreciation you deserved. But your love for the game is always seen when you play. We will certainly miss you VVS. Thank you once again

Posted by VivtheGreatest on (August 22, 2012, 8:00 GMT)

Nice article on one of India's finest ever batsmen.VVS made batting look ridiculously easy. Thanks for the memories Laxman

Posted by DEBAJITBARMAN on (August 22, 2012, 3:10 GMT)

Very Very Special Laxman is one of the best test batsmen of Indian history. I have been seen him playing since I am young. The innigs of Kolkata no indian cant forget how he and Dravid save india from a ldefinitely defeat and win to India.

Posted by Meety on (August 22, 2012, 2:05 GMT)

VVS Laxman is a batsmen of the highest order who's stats don't do him justice. In other words, he is better than a mid-40s average would suggest. Other examples of batsmen better than their stats would be Mark Waugh & David Gower. It's these type of players that crowds part with their money & attend games for. VVS - you are/were a champion, who I enjoyed watching even though it was usually at Oz's expense!

Posted by   on (August 22, 2012, 1:32 GMT)

Aakash Chopra is clearly the best writer in the world of Cricket, as he is the only one I remember who in living memory, who talks in specifics instead of generalities. Given his knowledge and his clarity of thinking, it is clear that he should be groomed under the current coach as batting coach. He just knows what he is talking about.

Posted by   on (August 22, 2012, 1:20 GMT)

@Ahmed: 1. I don't understand what a 'mere bully' means. Either someone is 'mere' or just a bully. Laxman as a batsman was neither. Sehwag could be described as a 'not mere' bully. Laxman was a great artist. 2. U also seem to think that Cricket and batting are like stock market analysis which most people think can be analysed and understood conclusively and solely with numbers. There is much more to both than numbers. Cricket in general and Laxman's batting in particular are beyond numbers. 3. Having said that, I also find a problem in the way numbers have been used. The fact that a lower order batsman averages less than a higher order batsman is not necessarily becoz he is inferior but also could be because, he has to bat with other lower order batsmen who are in a hurry to get back to the pavillion (especially true in India). Sachin has mostly batted with Sehwag, Dravid and Laxman himself, while Laxman has had much more to deal with numbers 7 to 11 at the other end.

Posted by kalyanbk on (August 21, 2012, 23:25 GMT)

@Ahmed Uetian, Laxman very nearly averaged 46 in his test career. A few batsmen who averaged around 46 - Clive Loyd, Dean Jones, Saeed Anwar, Martin Crowe, Gary Kirsten, Justin Langer, Gautam Gambhir and a certain Azharuddin. They are all high class batsmen. Anyone who says Laxman scored at home should see his 167 in Australia when everyone else struggled.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 23:15 GMT)

Laxman was a mere overrated flat track bully alongwith Sehwag .........1). with overseas avg of 40 as opposed to Dravid's & Sachin's 53............2). On recent non-Asian tours (SA WI Eng AUS) Laxman avraged 29 in 14 matches (that includes easy WI tour) Tendulkar avged 44 in 11 matches, Dravid 40 avged in 14 matches (that includes easy WI tour) .......3). No 5 & 6 r the easiest spots to bat in test bcz new ball has lost all his shine.......4). Being a lower order batsman even his 45 avg is inflated bcz of not outs eg when compared to Sachin: Laxman maintains an avg of 45 in 134 inn with 34 not outs at a rate of not out every 4th inn whereas Sachin maintains an avg of 55 in 188 inn with 32 not outs at a rate of not out every 6th inn.....5).Then comes the point that Laxman might have played faster selflessly to contribute more in partnership with tailander resulting in his dismisal, which also isn't the case - evident from his low S/R of 49 compared to Tendulkar's 54.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 21:42 GMT)

@khanc, agreed!!! More Chopra, more Manjrekar, more IanC, less Bhogle, less Ugra.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 20:42 GMT)

Even most international bowling allrounders have avg 40 ..............Teams don't need a lower order pure batsman with avg just 5 points above an allrounder & that too is inflated by scoring highly in home grounds

Posted by njr1330 on (August 21, 2012, 19:40 GMT)

I cannot believe people are suggesting Laxman was over-rated. I watched one of his few games for Lancashire, at Liverpool. He got to about 30-odd, when my cricket-loving son said: 'How can he be on 30 when he hasn't hit it yet?' ... Exactly, young man, exactly!!

Posted by iHitWicket on (August 21, 2012, 17:59 GMT)

It is Akash Chopra one has to read to understand cricket. His articles provide a short but deep insight into cricketing technicalities. i very much appreciate you writing these articles. I can't find fault in Laxman's retiring. Instead of announcing ahead of a series that he will be retiring after the series and have all the glory at the venues of the matches, he chose to walk away same as he does everything - quietly and with dignity. In the time and space the selection panels provided him, he delivered the best one could. Wish he will be long involved with enhancing cricket in India. Of all the recent Indian great's, if anyone can coach it would be Laxman. I am pretty sure in years ahead he will be a coveted coach and not just in India.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 17:31 GMT)

Great article Akash Chopra....It seems with his surgeon's precision on meeting the ball....Laxman easily could have batted with a STUMP.... instead of a wide BAT...??????

Posted by cricsuhail on (August 21, 2012, 16:27 GMT)

Absolutely agree with Riderstorm. Its a shame that such beatiful articles about Laxman are being written after he decided to retire. A lot of undue criticism forced a gem out of national duty. It is India's loss that Laxman chose not to push forward another season. Although this article is well-written but most of these articles are just a good read and sadly feels like we are now watering a dead plant!

Posted by khanc on (August 21, 2012, 16:01 GMT)

What a great article! More Aakash Chopra, less Bhogle and the like!

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 16:00 GMT)

"Laxman turned these fundamentals on their head by not only showing that meeting the ball with an angled bat produces desirable results but also proving that playing with the spin and swing is overrated." ... just like the man himself was!

Posted by Yagga175 on (August 21, 2012, 14:49 GMT)

I could watch Laxman all day - that 167 in Sydney was a masterpiece but it was, as Chopra pints out, the subtlety and refinement of his batting that was so mesmerising. The other key, which this fine article pinpoints, was his utter stillness and the time he allowed himself to play as late as possible. The fact that he saved his best for the great Australian team and that his best was as good as, if not better, than theirs is a powerful testament. However, for me his greatest legacy is that in an age of super-sized bats and bludgeoning, gym-manufactured power scoring he was a throwback to the wristy, supple elegance of the born strokemaker - taunting the fielders with the placement and timing of his strokes and befuddling even the sharpest of captains with his ability to make a mockery of a field setting. How I will miss him!

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 14:30 GMT)

LOL..Aakash ..not sure if the reference to the scorecard was required..you scored two centuries..ok your message conveyed.. Please look at your International Record..

Posted by squarepeg on (August 21, 2012, 14:27 GMT)

Can't add anything to all that people are saying about Laxman. Just want to say that Aakash Chopra is one of the most balanced and clear thinking cricketing brains in India. It is a pity that he is not the coach of the U17 and U19 India hopefuls. Instead of self-serving and vainglorious men of the Selection Committee, various technical committees etc., give a chance to Aakash, BCCI.

Posted by Naresh28 on (August 21, 2012, 14:21 GMT)

Laxman should become a batting coach. He is the perfect batsman and person. He has a lot to teach Indian youngsters.

Posted by ElPhenomeno on (August 21, 2012, 14:19 GMT)

He was a delight to watch at times. But for all his style, his lack of footwork and awkward play against good short pitch bowling restricted his game. Though he was a reasonably good slip catcher, his outfielding was poor. In the end, he will be remembered for his aesthetics more than anything else, kinda like azhar. Good but not great. Certainly not a legend.

Posted by Naresh28 on (August 21, 2012, 14:17 GMT)

AKASH DO YOU MIND PLAYING "OPENNING BATSMAN" FOR INDIA. YOU WRITE SUCH GOOD TECNICAL ARTICLES. THIS PRAISE OF LAXMAN SHOULD BE READ BY LIKES OF @RANDYOZ, LLILIAN THOMPSON ETC WHO MOCKED LAXMAN AS PRETTY ORDINARY. INDIAN FANS LIKE TO SEE LAXMAN IN FULL FLOW AND NOW THAT HE HAS RETIRED WE WILL NEVER SEE IT AGAIN. HE WAS A DELIGHTFUL PLAYER TO WATCH!!!!!!

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 13:48 GMT)

what a delectable piece. Aaksah Choprathank you so much..

Posted by venkatesh018 on (August 21, 2012, 13:31 GMT)

An accurate and threadbare analysis of a surgical genius by a fellow cricketer. I particularly loved the last line on the statutory warning. Once again, nice article, Akash. VVS-a career worth preserving in DVD.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 13:25 GMT)

Indeed a lucid-analysis of his technique and temperament! He was a special battling talent whose time was up - like all good things. 'Why now' was desirable, 'why not' avoidable.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 13:01 GMT)

A minor correction on last line "Some of his shots deserve a statutory warning: these stunts have been performed ONLY BY LAXMAN, please don't try them at home!

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 11:30 GMT)

A brilliant batman, we will no more see ....wonder if Akash can explain VVSL's propensity to get out between scores of 25 and 45 ....... I do not have exact numbers but having watched him over the years, I always thought he was prone to this malady !

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 11:11 GMT)

Murali's great comment that 'Laxman could potentially play shots on either side of the wicket to any given ball' specially brings to mind the way he took Australia apart - was it in Nagpur? - when they tried a 7-2 offside field. He'll be missed.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 11:06 GMT)

An absolute gem of an insightful article. Sometimes in the chase for the number of centuries, the best averages, strike rates etc. our generation has forgotten to enjoy the game for the seer pleasure of it. Just watching cricket for the sake of the game, not for records. VVX was one such giant of the game. Unfortunately in India, we start appreciating a person only after he has gone... Wish Rohit S develops into one such immortal... who gives pleasure, and nothing more, and who the connoisseurs will miss once he is gone.

Posted by OnlyKaps on (August 21, 2012, 10:41 GMT)

Akash, what a fantastic analysis. Only a genius can play like this - defy text gook and get it right. Laxman was about more than a cricketer who was unorthodox or a good timer.. There are lots of those, but they cant make unorthodoxy look beautiful - their brute force shows thru e.g. Dhoni. He is not like those who ONLY time well - many of those still play by text book - e.g Sachin or Greame Pollock. and hence look graceful. But Laxman played the impossible shots not in the copybook and made them standout and wonder " Where is this guy from? " has he dropped from the heavens ?!! Such was Laxman in full flow. It will foreever remain a sad and unbelieveble event for me that he could not click on his last tour against Australia.. though not one of his illustrious seniors in the team could do so either ( equally surprising and shocking)

Posted by ipuram on (August 21, 2012, 10:00 GMT)

Have people forgotten that wonderful catch VVS took in field (not in the slips, where he was next to DRAVID India's best) ) and scored a century against NEW ZEALAND in the same match!.SAURAV GANGULY commented that India beat Pakistan in Pakistan both in the tests series as well as in the ODI series, thanks to TWO critical innings respectively from VVS ( one a CENTURY and another in the 70s, when the both test and the ODI series stood 2 all!) It is surprising that he has forgotten his own comments in this regard. Laxman himself said even granting his slow running between the wickets and reluctance to take quick singles he still matched the best runners in Indian team in regard to the run rate

Posted by thalalara on (August 21, 2012, 9:59 GMT)

The surprising part on this VVS retirement drama is...... why did he announce his retirement after the team selection was done ? He could have retired after the Australian series or 1 month after it or anytime in the last 4 to 5 months? . Is he trying to prove a point here? do anybody have an answer for this? except for VVS ? Ok anyway its irrelevant now.... Yeah no doubt he is a Graceful batsman. His exit could have been more graceful without embarrassing the selectors.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 9:52 GMT)

A great analysis of a great batsman's very special technique.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 8:42 GMT)

Fantastic article. I've not a read a more thorough description of batting technique before this. On topic: the greatest boundary I have ever seen - the greatest, I know this with absolute certainty - is the On Drive he played to get to his second 50 in that epic Kolkata test of 2001. The bowler was Kasprowicz. I still load that innings on YouTube just to watch that shot. It is miraculous, one of those moments when a cricketer's skills help cricket transcend sport and become art.

Go well, VVS. Thank you for the memories.

Posted by cricket__fan on (August 21, 2012, 8:19 GMT)

An excellent article by someonw who knows about cricket and also wants to write about cricket and cricketers. This is excellent stuff from Chopra, far better than what Ms Ugra's article.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 8:09 GMT)

yes.laxman is a revolutionar.

Posted by kharidra on (August 21, 2012, 8:06 GMT)

Being conformist would have had better averages on paper, but possibly not the kind of winner innings particularly the second innings. Exploring the limits of strength and delivering victories and in humility is what greatness is all about. VVS - A Virtuoso V Style Play that has brought victories from the verge and hence the warning that is described in the article - Practice for Greatness.

Posted by roversgate on (August 21, 2012, 6:42 GMT)

Laxman retired a bit too early. So many tests have shown that players benefit from playing with Laxman because they remain calm and produce the best they have on offer (taking form and technique into account). He did well with all the tail-enders and won games for India from there. Having too new players in the team - Pujara and Kohli could also have benefited from having him around. He should have retired only after knowing that Pujara and Kohli are well set in this team. I do blame BCCI for not keeping this in mind though, they handle almost retirees very poorly.

Posted by adith_thegod on (August 21, 2012, 6:30 GMT)

So Aakash Chopra scored 2 centuries in that match.. well done Aakash we've noticed it

Posted by Riderstorm on (August 21, 2012, 5:47 GMT)

Wish you wrote this article a year ago, highlighting the importance of Laxman and his brilliance. It could've saved him the hurt from number of fans who pushed for his returement without a care for the youngsters who would've gained immensely playing under him.

Posted by santoshjohnsamuel on (August 21, 2012, 5:14 GMT)

VVS was special, and so is Aakash's wonderful explanatory piece. Thank you.

Posted by   on (August 21, 2012, 3:53 GMT)

wonderful Article from Akash. what an analysis. Its god gift and its delight to watch VVs bating. The flow of shots from the willow ,looks like brush in an artist hand. bowlers were bewildered by those shots. whats more they all come at the time of Team Requirements. Being a Hyderabadi I felt sad the way he was asked to leave.Right from the word go ,due recognisation had not been given to him. If it happens in Bengal or place. the Test center could not be in proper shape to witness a test match. Uppal crowds should protest for the Humiliation meted to The great laxman . History should reflect the greatness of wonders of Very very special.

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Aakash ChopraClose
Aakash Chopra Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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