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At the summit

N. Mukesh Kumar and P. Gopichand talk about the man of the moment, V.V.S. Laxman, to V.V. SUBRAHMANYAM

THE TALK of the nation is quite predictably Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman, the elegant batsman from Hyderabad who is on a new career high with a phenomenal consistency - hitting two centuries in the Test series and three more in on the on-going V.B. Triangular series. A feat which was almost unimaginable only a few months ago. Without doubt, for the first time ever since Sachin Tendulkar made his debut in 1989 series, has any other Indian batsman become the darling of the entire cricketing world by the sheer weight of his quality batsmanship? There were never doubts about his class but only creeping suspicions about consistency. But, Laxman gave a new definition to the art of wriggling out of a crisis, mostly self-imposed in his case for he always had that unique touch of aristocracy with the willow but never really did complete justice. Not long ago, there were serious questions about his utility value, particularly in one-dayers. Simply, he chose to let the bat do the talking and leave the rest to the `pundits', almost making them question their own collective wisdom.

But, what exactly do the leading sports personalities of the city think about the stunning success story of Laxman in Australia? There can be no better gentlemen than triple Olympian Nandnuri Mukesh Kumar, who incidentally shared the fitness-training schedule with the stylish batsman and the 2001 All England badminton champion, Pullela Gopichand. Mukesh Kumar feels that the most impressive feature of Laxman is his unbridled enthusiasm to fight back from adversity through unquestionable commitment and dedication. "I clearly remember the days when he was out of the Indian team. "His commitment was something which amazed me for it came from someone of Laxman's stature," recalls the yesteryear ace hockey forward. "Honestly, I myself, despite being in the field for close to 15 years, felt I should learn something from the way this great man was trying to achieve," he says. "The intense desire to excel and be in the limelight is what really made him fight back against all odds," Mukesh remarked. The three-time World Cupper also feels that the abundance of patience displayed by Laxman when the going was not good is a lesson for any other sportsperson . "This is something which should be the first quality even I will love to imbibe," he says honestly.

He is an inspiration for all youngsters - Gopichand

There were days when Laxman and Mukesh (both of them work in the Indian Airlines), shared some common areas of interest - like what a sportsperson should do when he is down and out. "Yes, there was this query from him once. Then, I told him how I countered it. I told him that I never only thought of scoring goals on my own but had greater satisfaction in initiating the right moves to set up a goal. This is equally important. Essentially, there was unanimity that we should first give more than 100 per cent and then think of the rest," recalls Mukesh. The other feature which impressed Mukesh was Laxman's impeccable behaviour. "He always greets you with a big smile and in fact speaks very little. But, there was a touch of warmth every time we met." "Who will not be proud of Laxman? He is achieving what many can only dream of and we are (Indian Airlines staff) waiting to give him a warm reception, " is how Mukesh countered a query.

On the other hand, Pullela Gopi Chand has a unique relationship with Laxman. It is imperative to recall that Laxman scored that record-breaking 281 against Steve Waugh-led Australians in early 2001, just a day after the former won the All England championship. "Gopi's achievement was certainly a big inspiration to me," Laxman remarked then. What exactly does Gopi feel now? "Definitely, those were the golden moments in not just our careers but of the nation's sporting history too. It was so nice of him to say that then," the ace shuttler recalls. "With his current great run, Laxman has done the country proud and more so a Hyderabadi," was the instant word of appreciation from Gopi. "I honestly felt that he was highly talented. No doubt, he is one of the great sports personalities from India," says Gopi.

Who will not be proud of Laxman? - Mukesh

How exactly does Gopi look at Laxman as a human being? "I think his greatest features are that he is non-controversial, level-minded and a person who knows his strengths." Gopi always enjoyed the few encounters he had with Laxman for he found him humble and nice. "I sincerely wish that he will continue this great run for some more years. His performances should be the inspiration for all those youngsters with talent who feel they have run into a dead-end. For Laxman showed how one can fight back to the top through sheer hard work and self-belief," he explained. And, not surprisingly, Gopi is waiting to personally to congratulate the `man of the moment' V.V.S. Laxman.

Well, as Dr. V.Shantaram, Laxman's father rightly pointed out, Laxman scaled the summit of world cricket through translating self-belief into performances when it mattered most. "We just told him to avoid comparing himself with anyone else. Improve upon yourself, put all the efforts you are expected to do," says the proud father. Apparently, Laxman didn't either disappoint his parents or the cricketing fraternity. It is not just the number of runs he scored but the style and class with which he got them. As Ian Chappel aptly commented: He is a Very Very Special Laxman!

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