VVS Laxman has announced his retirement from international cricket with immediate effect, ending a 16-year career that will be remembered for several innings of extreme grace under extreme pressure. Laxman, 37, had been included in India's squad for the home series against New Zealand starting next week but said he took the decision over the past few days.
He announced his decision at an emotional press conference in his hometown Hyderabad, which he will represent in the Ranji Trophy this coming season.
"I would like to announce my retirement from international cricket with immediate effect," Laxman said. "I have always kept my country's success and need ahead of my personal aspirations. And while I would love contributing to the team's success, especially against England and Australia, I think this is the right time to give the youngsters a chance in home conditions ahead of international assignments coming up next year." The chance he said, could be, "no better than against an inexperienced New Zealand bowling attack."
Dressed in a sharp, formal suit, Laxman made his announcement in a conference room at the Rajiv Gandhi International Stadium, in Uppal to the north east of his home city, Hyderabad. Several members of family, including his parents, wife and two children, were present at the function. Shortly into his speech the lights of the conference room went out, and Laxman grinned, an otherwise sombre occasion turning informal.
He admitted that this sudden retirement had been "a tough decision to take," adding, "I have always listened to my inner conscience. I have always done that right through my career. There was a lot of debate in the last four days. I felt this is the right time to move on."
The decision to quit had been arrived at only on Saturday morning after Laxman admitted he had toyed over the idea over the last few days. "Till last night I was unable to make up my mind, but in the end I listened to my inner voice and arrived at my decision to retire. I informed the chairman of selectors (Krishnamachari Srikkanth) this morning that I would not continue playing for India. I also spoke to many of my team-mates, they were surprised that I was retiring before the series. It was all very emotional."
Laxman read out a prepared statement in which he thanked everyone who had been part "of my journey" in which he said he had been able to "live his dream" and felt "blessed that I had got the opportunity. Very few get the opportunity to play for their country." His voice shook only briefly in the early part of his statement and his wife Sailaja was seen wiping away tears. Laxman gathered himself, finished his statement and took questions about quitting only five days before the first Test against New Zealand in Hyderabad. He said that while his family had waned him to play in the Hyderabad Test but he had made up his mind in what had been the "toughest three or four days of my career."
In a touch of the dramatic after he had read out his prepared statement, the president of the Hyderabad Cricket Association (HCA) G Vinod appealed to Laxman to change his mind about retirement and agree to play in the Hyderabad Test versus New Zealand next week. In response, Laxman only smiled.
He did admit however that until a few weeks ago, he had not thought about quitting the game before the Test series versus New Zealand. It was the "internal debate" over the last few days that led to this decision. It was not however, made in haste or with regret. "I have always read and listened to a lot of sportspersons who have excelled in their careers and they have all said that at the end of their career, there will suddenly be a feeling, a thought within you that a day has come that you have to leave the sport and move on. It is what I have experienced in the last four or five days... I feel really satisfied that I have left the game with the same ideals that I have played the game."
When asked whether his decision to retire had come about largely due to adverse criticism following two poor series in England and Australia, Laxman said, "Those comments have definitely not allowed (sic) me to make the decision." The Australia series he said was, "very disappointing. No cricketer would want to lose in such a fashion."
Responding to being criticised, Laxman said, "Right from the start of my career there have been a lot of people who wrote negative about me and there have been more people who have been well wishers and talked positive about me. In a country like India, where cricket is more like a religion than a sport, if you try to satisfy each and every one, it's next to impossible."
Laxman represented India in 134 Tests, scoring 8781 runs at 45.97. He made his debut against South Africa in the home series in 1996 but shot to the limelight with a knock of 167 against Australia in Sydney in 2000. Perhaps his greatest achievement was his 281 at Eden Gardens in Kolkata in 2001, against Australia, then the highest score by an Indian batsman in Tests. Part of a record stand with Rahul Dravid, it set up a stunning victory for the home team after following on and ended Australia's consecutive 16-match winning streak.
Laxman last played an ODI in 2006 but had, by then, become a regular in the Test side and played his 100th Test in 2008, against Australia in Nagpur. Laxman made six of his 17 Test centuries against Australia, with an average of 49.67 in 29 Tests and success both home and away.
His performances in the eight Tests during India's disastrous tours of England and Australia in 2011 were disappointing. He averaged 22.75 in England and 19.38 in Australia, prompting some to call for him being dropped from the side with a long-term view of grooming a youngster to take his place.