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Mesmerising from middle

Laxman did well to impress his fans and critics against the West Indies. He's now all spruced up to give his best shot during the English tour starting later this month.

WILLOW TALK: A triumphant homecoming for V. V. S. Laxman.

THE OLD magic was back. And, quite fittingly, the regal elegance too was to the fore in the land of Calypso charmers. It was sheer music for the connoisseurs of the sport and to the noisy fans in the stands, beating drums and blowing the typical varieties of horns when the strokes flowed from his blade. For they knew in their heart of hearts, that a `master' was at work, even though he was from the rival outfit. The 28-year-old most eligible, sporting bachelor of Hyderabad, V.V.S.Laxman, was clearly determined to silence the growing number of critics. There were always uncomfortable questions - more about the lack of required degree of consistency at the highest level than on his indisputable class.

The fan in the street would have been crestfallen had Laxman failed on the West Indies sojourn, arguably the most crucial in his career. After that all-time great knock of 281 against the Steve Waugh-led Australians last February, the middle-order batsman was deemed to stay put in the `elite zone' in world cricket. But that was not to be as he really struggled to middle the ball for too long. There were many guest appearances with the willow and he had even the dubious distinction of not aggregating even 281 for almost one year. Failures win no fans for anyone, however, gifted he may be.

Ironically, Laxman was not an automatic choice for the just-concluded West Indies tour. An injury to the in-form Virender Sehwag opened the window of a wonderful opportunity. More importantly, the Indian Airlines officer seized on the chances to emerge the leading run-getter in Test series with a tally of 474 runs from five matches. What is of greater relevance is not just the number but the quality. Fortunately, Laxman revelled every time the team was in a crisis of sorts. In the second Test at Port of Spain, which India won, he scored a classy 74 out of a team total of 218 and when his team was struggling at 56 for four at one stage. He followed it up with another 69 in the second knock to be the `man of the match'. "Well, for me, scoring 30 and see the team winning gives greater satisfaction than hitting a double or triple ton and be on the losing side,'' says Laxman. If one juxtaposes the failure of even a genius like Sachin Tendulkar and the inability of Rahul Dravid to come good when it mattered, and from the other side the failure of the great Brian Lara, the blame may not lie squarely on Laxman. Yet, Laxman honestly says: "Though, I am extremely satisfied with my consistency, I am terribly disappointed at the team not winning the Test series.'' For his fans, the most pleasing aspect of the whole tour is that he got the confidence back with a bang. A clearly focussed Laxman held the centre stage often upstaging the likes of Tendulkar and Dravid as was evident by his 43 out of a total of 102 in the Barbados which India lost. He says honestly that he never gave a thought either to the plain fact that he was on trial or he was out there to silence the critics. "I never looked at it that way. My attitude was to play positive and aggressive cricket and I am happy I succeeded,'' Laxman recalls.

Amidst the discernible sense of satisfaction, Laxman is fully aware of the fact that he should ensure a touch of certainty to his selection in the one-day squad too. Here again, it is one of the mysteries of the sport how such a class batsman who plays the strokes to the fence with disdain does not figure in the team's game plan. "I hope that time may not be far off before even this impression is wiped out,'' he says confidently. Well, it is certainly not impossible.

For the moment, Laxman has already set his eyes on the English tour later this month. "Oh! That should be another great experience. Coming good there under bowler-friendly conditions should only enhance your reputation,'' he says. He is aware that he should be extra careful for playing strokes away from his body on the off-stump. It all boils down to stroke selection.

The gifted star, a celebrity in his own way in the City, means business, clearly looking ahead and aiming high.


Photo: Mohd Yousuf

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