Wednesday, April 11, 2012

My Favourite Cricketer: VVS Laxman by Minal of Granger Gab

We've invited some of the very best cricket writers and bloggers to tell us why certain players stand out for them above all others.  This week, Minal of Granger Gab and The Sight Screen writes of the most stylish Indian of them all, a man whose nickname was the ultimate compliment: VVS Laxman.  Minal tweets @granger_gab, and we really suggest you follow her.
 As much as we love to deny it, we all have a secret crush - the one we adore but won’t admit because it would mean sharing loyalties with our one true love. My favourite cricketer has always been and will always be Rahul Dravid. When the Balanced Sports and World Cricket Watch team asked me to pen a piece for this series, I saw that Rahul was already spoken for, and thought it best to write about my secret cricketing crush – the Very Very Very Special Laxman.
In fact VVS Laxman is the secret crush of every Indian fan. He is the guy that unites the Tendulkar, Dravid and Dada fans alike. VVS the last of the Fab Four to hit the scene - his batting - exquisite, beautiful , elegant - a delight to watch; one that could tempt many a staunch supporters of any other cricketer to commit infidelity when it came to this man.

After witnessing the birth of two future batting stalwarts at Lords 1996, India wasn’t quite prepared for the sublime batting that would put her in a trance for the next 16 years.
On a devilish pitch, probably one of the worst test wickets, a young man of 22 held fort in the second innings to get 51 after India has conceded a small lead of 21 runs. No Indian batsmen had got a 50 in that match barring this young lad. When I was watching him bat, the teenage me turned to my dad and asked “Papa since when did the rules allow a batsman to bat twice in the same innings, why is Azhar playing again?” Laxman reminded me of Azhar then– still does; the silken grace, the wristy shots on the on-side, the gift of impeccable timing. These batsmen from Hyderabad seemed to be blessed with a batting style as delectable as the Biryani from that land.

But sadly as has been the case with Indian cricket, a permanent place in the packed middle order was always going to be tough. Ganguly came back from his injury and VVS found himself out of the side in the 3rd test of that series. VVS was later asked to open and he never really succeeded in that position; but his affair with Australia started at that very position. In the 99-00 tour VVS wove his first spell of magic on the Aussies at Sydney. He decimated the Aussie attack single-handedly.
His 167 in a team total of 261 was intoxication at its best – even today while revisiting the innings you will drown in the beauty and wide array of strokes on display - the ease in his batting, the delicacy of his wrist play. As a friend once said, “Sachin is God, but there are strokes that Laxman plays at times, which Sachin would only dream of.” I have never dared to debate with him on this point.
Post this series and the one at home against South Africa, Laxman put his foot down and refused to open. He went back to the domestic grind, scored big hundreds and forced the selectors to consider him as a middle-order bat. After a year, Laxman came back to the Indian side and the rest as they say is history. VVS’s 281 Vs Australia in 2001 still gives me goosebumps when I watch the VCD of the match. He was the only one who put his hand up in the first innings – getting 59 in a team total of 171 and the last man to be out. Trailing by 274 with the test and series loss looming large, VVS walked in at number 3 and scripted a miracle along with Rahul Dravid. What he achieved with that knock did not merely amount to an Indian victory to be stored in cricket’s record books, with it he restored the shaken belief of a billion Indian fans. In that one knock, he truly reflected the attitude that John Wright and Ganguly were trying to build into this team – to make them world beaters; he showed that his team was not the one to give up, had the courage to conquer all demons and withstand all attacks. That knock laid the first brick to India’s success in test cricket – of achieving the Numero Uno position. In that one knock – Laxman weaved his magic forever on us.

Of the numerous shots he played that day – one remains stuck in my head forever – replayed a million times, in awe of this man. Warne bowled a delivery leaving the leg stump, Laxman got behind the delivery, his bat almost facing the on-side and hit the ball in the extra-cover region. That was as classy an extra-cover drive you will ever see but mind you it came against a ball wide of the leg-stump. Not a single soul moved on the field – Warne stood still wondering what had just happened. VVS had the ability to play the ball when he wanted and where he wanted.
After that knock Laxman became India’s crisis man. His 75 in Brisbane '03 after India had lost 4 wickets – his partnership with Ganguly set the tone for that series. The sublime 148 at Adelaide was an able aid to Dravid’s 233 when India were down in the dumps at 85/4 after Aus had got 500+ in the first innings. The 73 against South Africa '06 in the 2nd innings – along with Sreesanth’s 5-40 in the first innings took India to her first win in South Africa. The SCG 109 in '08 – VVS and Dravid came together to script another fight back on day 2 after the shambolic performance in the first test at Melbourne. VVS followed this knock with a 79 in Perth to play an important role in India’s first win at the venue after the Sydney horrors.
In 2010 he probably re-wrote his own fairy-tale – being part of India’s finest test wins – 2 of them chasing in tough situations on 5th day. His 103* Vs Sri Lanka at Colombo sealed a victory and helped us draw the series after 3 wickets had fallen in quick succession the previous evening. His 96 at Durban '10 which was the sole reason behind India’s win to level the series; and finally the nail-biting Mohali chase Vs Australia. Fighting back spasms VVS had only Ishaant and Ojha for company when India were reeling at 124-8 chasing 216 , that 81 run partnership that followed with Ishaant turned out to be among Australia’s worst nightmares. Laxman had yet again been there when it had mattered the most for his team. In away wins, Laxman's contribution with the bat stands at 3rd position behind Dravid and Tendulkar.
Statistics don’t do justice to his potential. In 134 matches, he has 8781 runs with an average of 46 and 14 hundreds. That last number should’ve been much higher. His modest performances against South Africa and England on away tours will always remain a mystery to me; but I think Laxman chose his love affairs well – with Australia and Eden. Among his contemporaries he stands at #3 with most runs against Australia; only Sachin and Lara are ahead of him. Probably the reason why Brett Lee said this of Laxman:
"If you get Dravid, great. If you get Sachin, brilliant. If you get Laxman, it's a miracle."
Of his 14 100s, 6 have come against Australia, 4 in Australia – 3 of them at SCG. Of the modern era Laxman’s 281 is the highest score against Australia, he is preceded by Hutton(364) and Foster(287)

Back home like his look-alike Azhar, Laxman loves Eden and Eden loves him, just like she loved Azhar. Both players have 5 100s there. Laxman is the only player to get 1000 plus runs at Eden. Hyderabadis and Eden – it is a divine connection. There is a common word that goes around –
If it is Eden, no matter where he bats, Laxman will get a 100.
I would be doing grave injustice to Laxman the slip fielder if I did not mention his 135 catches. He stands among the top 10 in the world today among players with most catches as non-wicketkeeper. He has kept Dravid fine company during the last decade and helped build a strong close-in field for his team’s bowlers.
VVS Laxman - the quiet performer among the Fab Four, his shy demeanor and no -nonsense batting. Come to the crease, get to the hundred in no time, boost the team score and quietly fade away in the background – in that period on the crease, cast a spell and leave us in a trance. Rarely have I seen him play an ugly stroke, no slogging for him. A species so rare, in this cruel world of fast-food cricket today we have no space to preserve this species of batsmen. He may be the last to come by - so savor all that is left of his batting. 

Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman, aptly rechristened "Very Very Special Laxman" by Ian Chappell – the universal, non-debated favorite player of all.
As I end my post on my secret crush – I leave you with these lines I penned a few months back.
Have you watched…
The raindrops fall on your window sill
The dewdrops slide down from a leaf
The flowers blossom in the morning sunshine
The sun set into the ocean wide
The moonlight on a pitch dark night
The snowflakes rest into your palm
The river find her way gently through the rocks
The rainbow spread far into the sky
Have you watched these marvels of nature and then…..
Have You Watched VVS Laxman Bat?

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