Laxman’s pristine qualities will be missed

Cricket will always be played and batting always celebrated. It has been so for ages. But the game won’t have a V.V.S. Laxman to decorate it with gems that had become an essential ingredient of his cricket career.

The graceful batsman has chosen to retire with dignity, even though in a huff, and kept his anguish to himself. He mulled over it for four days and it was a painful decision he was compelled to take in the interest of the team and his self pride. He could not always play on his terms, but at least in quitting he had it his way.

With Laxman’s exit, one of Indian cricket’s most glorious chapters of aesthetic batting has shut. To watch him bat was bliss. His class was pristine and Laxman knew it well. He worked hard to hone his style, mostly natural.

Only he can play

Those breathtaking flicks and nudges, those majestic drives and the nonchalant pulls, he had come to master them all. At a nets session one remembers coach John Wright calling a young batsman and telling him, “Watch him, but don’t try to imitate. Only VVS can play them.” Yes, only Laxman could have played with such imperious dominance. Not at nets; in a challenging match situation.

The affable Hyderabadi never had his way. He was made to open and was often shuffled in the batting order against his wishes till the time he got stuck at number 6.

This was a role he enjoyed immensely for it allowed him to grow as an individual in a team game. He played with great dignity, never inviting or expressing disrespect for fellow players or the opposition. Cricket was a pleasant way of life for Laxman, who scored centuries in Tests from position 1 to 6.

His batting was so strikingly contradictory to his character. Off the field he couldn’t hurt a fly but Laxman, the batsman, could destroy the most-famed bowling attacks. And here too, he would carry on the job in a manner that left even the opposition admiring his art.

An artist at work

He was an artist. The canvas of batting was a colourful salutation to his range. He could bat. And he could make others bat. Really, batting looked so easy, so attractive, when Laxman was on strike. He never struck at the ball but merely caressed it. His soft nature created a soft repertoire but quite an effective one.

Laxman, 37, was extremely popular with the Indian bowlers for two reasons. First, they didn’t have to bowl to him.

Second, he would willingly offer his services to be their batting coach. How often these very tail-enders would borrow his bat and go out to live his role.

Remember the one-wicket win over Australia at Mohali in 2010 when Laxman and Ishant Sharma added 81 runs for the ninth wicket. Ishant discovered his batting potential that afternoon. “Watching Laxman bhai bat, I thought this was easy. Watching him, I also thought how I wish I had been a batsman!” Not just Ishant, the list includes Harbhajan Singh, Zaheer Khan, Ashish Nehra, Pragyan Ojha.

Great reputation

It is not easy to be a match-winner at any level. Laxman acquired this reputation at the international level. With ease at that! “He is fabulous,” was how once Kapil Dev had remarked. He confessed it would have been a challenge to bowl to an in-form Laxman.

He had the time and skill to direct his shots. “On his day he could beat even 22 fielders and find the boundary,” as Zaheer Khan had rightly analysed during the course of a batting symphony by Laxman.

“The greatest innings ever played by an Indian still belongs to him,” remarked Bishan Singh Bedi. So well remembered! The 281 at the Eden Gardens in 2001 gave new life to Indian cricket and Sourav Ganguly. A pity, they let Laxman down in his hour of need!

In Laxman’s hurried retirement, Indian cricket has lost one of its best match-winner. The game will not be the same. Certainly not for the connoisseurs of artistic batsmanship; nor for the purists! Batsmen like Laxman just don’t come very often.

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