The Bengaluru launch of VVS Laxman's autobiography '281 and beyond' was an occasion for plenty of nostalgia with former team-mates Rahul Dravid, Anil Kumble and Javagal Srinath. While the famous Eden Gardens Test of 2001 - that gave the book its title - featured prominently, there were also other bylanes of memory explored, including how the team's vegetarian contingent 'invited themselves' to Indian homes abroad, Laxman's first meetings with the trio, and his obsessive routines while batting.
On Eden Gardens, 2001:
Dravid: "You know I sometimes tell people, and I really mean this: I really had the best seat in the house for the greatest Indian innings ever played… it was absolutely phenomenal to watch. Some of the shots he played were incredible. You can almost still visualise him stepping outside the leg stump and hitting [Shane] Warne through the covers, for a ball that's pitched yards outside leg stump. Or being able to flick a ball on middle and off on a turning track to a great bowler (Warne), and hitting him through square leg. Or driving Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie. It was an incredible experience watching him bat. By the time I went to bat, he was already 90-odd, and I think we ran a single to short fine leg and he got a hundred. I wasn't playing particularly well in that series to start off with, but just watching him play gave me a lot of confidence. It was a magical day."
Laxman: "We didn't have too much conversation in between. All we did was punch gloves and say, 'One more over'. We broke it down into small goals. But not once did we feel complacent. I got my hundred, then he got his hundred, he got his 150, I got my double-hundred - but not once were we content that 'Yes, we have achieved a personal aspiration'. I remember just before the Kolkata Test, both of us had a partnership against West Zone in Surat. Again I got a double-hundred, Rahul got a hundred and we had a big partnership. [While] batting with Rahul the talk was always minimal, but there was some kind of serenity around whenever you were batting with Rahul."
Kumble: "I did not participate in that series because I had a shoulder surgery. I was in South Africa for my rehab, and I was watching the game while I was at my physiotherapist's. Evan Speechly, who became the Indian physio and is now the RCB physio, was there. We had just got all out and Laxman had come out to bat again, this time at No. 3. And I was leaving for India that night, and Evan said, 'Hey, what's happening, how can India lose to Australia?' So I said, 'No, no, we are winning this Test match' and I walked out. I sat on the flight when Rahul and Laxman were on the crease, and when I landed in Mumbai at 2 or 3 am, the whole day's play had gone. The first thing I asked at immigration was, 'What's the score?' They said, '500-plus for 4'. So I didn't get the opportunity to watch them live at all, and I was hoping it would happen again. And it happened very quickly, in Adelaide [in 2003]. The one thing that kept coming back to my mind was, 'I hope this is a partnership like Kolkata because I want to watch this', and they put on 300-plus again."
On first meetings:
With Rahul Dravid in an Under-19 match, Hyderabad v Karnataka in Bangalore
Laxman: "Rahul was wearing a shirt while batting. Later, I came to know it was gifted by Roger Binny, and had the logo of the BCCI. As usual, Rahul scored a hundred. You name the trophy, Rahul had a hundred against Hyderabad. I cannot forget the body language he showed - the concentration, focus, ability to play long innings. That never changed till the last day he played the game."
Dravid: "I remember that shirt Laxman is talking of, Roger had given it to me. It was a shirt they got when they were touring England. It was really thick, meant for the winter in England. But because it was given to me by Roger Binny, I would still wear that shirt to bat in 30 degrees centigrade. And Laxman is just being kind to say I got a lot of runs against them. The amount of fielding I've done when Laxman has batted! I mean I got a hundred, but he made triple-hundreds against us, and double-hundreds against us."
With Srinath just before his debut in Ahmedabad in late 1996:
Laxman: "Before I made my debut, as was the norm, they asked me to give a speech. I was very emotional, and when I started talking I was courteous, thanking each one, saying it was an honour and privilege to be playing with some of the role models I've grown up being inspired by. Suddenly one voice calls out: 'You don't respect the seniors? I want you to stand on the chair and give your speech. Show some respect man.' And that was from Javagal Srinath. Even till date, he continues to rag me!"
With Kumble, as his batting partner on debut:
Laxman: "The only thing he would say is, 'Tu khel na mama, main hoon tere saath' [You bat, I'm there with you]. That's the confidence Anil had in himself and the confidence he used to give to any player he came across."
Kumble: "What he doesn't say is that whenever I batted with him, I was the dominant partner. I had to tell him how to bat. I remember in South Africa in 1996, we were playing Free State in a side game, and I was the captain. It was the last ten mandatory overs and we had lost six wickets when I went in to bat. Laxman was in the 40s, and the first message I gave him was, 'We can't lose this game. We are India. And if you get out trying to score a fifty, you've had it.' And he took it so seriously that a couple of full tosses by Nicky Boje, he just tapped it straight back at him. He was not out on 47 or 48, and I remember him walking into the dressing room and one of the senior players made a comment, 'Arre, fifty to karna tha' [You should have made a fifty at least]. I screamed at the top of my voice, 'It was my decision that he cannot get his fifty, and he has to stay there.' That's how dominant I was, the big brother for Laxman."
On Laxman's routines:
Dravid: "The thing with Laxman was he had so many routines. Tap the gloves, then he'll go to his crease and mark seven times on one side, six times on the other. Then he'll come and stand. He was in such a rush to get back to do all his lines, that there was no time to have a conversation! I'm waiting there to talk to Laxman and he's busy marking lines.
He'd tap the glove exactly in one fashion and just to pull his leg, I would sometimes walk away and he'd be, 'Come here'. Then he'd tap."
On hunting for vegetarian food abroad:
Kumble: "West Indies would be a challenge. Two bowlers would be on the boundary, one would be Srinath. He would have figured out where we are going for dinner that day, to someone's house. He would speak to one of the Indian friends who were sitting near the boundary line, and make sure we were their guests - uninvited. That was the only option."
Generally, when you invite the Indian team over for any meal, there is reluctance. It's very difficult to get the team as a whole, coming to anyone's house. But in the West Indies, two minibuses would be parked. Without invitation, both buses were filled up by 7 o'clock. And there were clear instructions given to the host: 'You can't talk to the cricketers, you can't disturb them.' So we would go there, and after we had eaten, there would be some two minutes the hosts could have a conversation and then we would leave. It used to be a sort of potluck, with a lot of Indian families bringing one dish to the host's place. The best food was in the homes of Indian families."
Srinath: "We have shamelessly invited ourselves into so many people's houses. And now when I go back as match referee, they say, 'You came to our house thrice'. But we are thankful to our expatriates for their love of the game. At any stage, we didn't feel short of food. In fact, I think we over-ate and added weight."