Table for Two Cricket

VVS Laxman: Spicing it up!

Savouring the moment: VVS Laxman at Jade restaurant of The Claridges in New Delhi

Savouring the moment: VVS Laxman at Jade restaurant of The Claridges in New Delhi   | Photo Credit: V.V. Krishnan

Over a Chinese meal, VVS Laxman opens up on the highs and lows of his sterling career, and how his food habits have changed after retirement

He sacrificed his position at number three in team’s interest; won Tests for India from incredibly tight positions. Dreamt of playing the World Cup but could not. It was nothing short of a conspiracy to keep VVS Laxman out of the 2003 squad. He was shattered to an extent that he decided to “retire.” If he did not, it was only because cricket pulled him back from that depressing phase. And after a topsy-turvy phase, it was smooth sailing for the good man of Indian cricket.

“The 2003 exclusion from the World Cup was very disappointing, the toughest phase in my career. In fact, I decided to retire from cricket. I did not even inform my parents (Dr. V. Shantaram and Dr. V. Satyabhama), my coach (John Manoj), my uncle (Baba Krishna Mohan). I went to the US to spend time with my childhood friends but after a couple of months, I realised I was missing the sound of the ball hitting the bat. I realised I was still passionate about the game. I returned to India and began practising. The five-month break after the World Cup helped,” Laxman remembers during our lunch at Jade, The Claridges, where his autobiography “281 And Beyond” (Westland), was launched.

The turning point

Jade is a popular dining place in the heart of the Capital. Manjeet Ahlawat (Food and Beverage Manager) and Om Prakash Dhyani (Restaurant Manager) are fans of Laxman and ensure he gets a serene spot in the restaurant. There are instructions we are not to be disturbed with the exception of Chef Vivek Rana. “You decide for us,” Laxman tells Rana. The lunch takes off with mince corn soup.

Laxman returns to his cricket journey. His first 29 innings in Tests had not fetched a century. The 1999-00 tour to Australia was coming to an end when Laxman saved his career with 167 at Sydney. “The 167 was the turning point. The first five innings I thought I had not settled in the team. I was not sure if I could establish myself in the team. I had to score a century to do that. The 167 helped me hugely. The conditions were hostile but the century changed my mindset.” He won the hearts of the Australian cricket fans with that sensational knock. In subsequent visits, he became the darling of the public Down Under to an extent he could qualify for Australian citizenship.

The soup dealt with, we are served Chinese green dumpling, spicy chilli. Laxman savours it and requests for some more. “During my playing days, I was never keen on spice. Even at home, it is not spicy food. After leaving the game, I am relishing the full thaali. South Indian food offers such lovely options. In fact, I try different options,” he concentrates on the dumpling, which is a tempting half-volley for him.

Laxman was an acknowledged match-winner. Much has been written about the 281 at Kolkata when, instead of waiting for Sunil Gavaskar, whose record he had broken, to call him, Laxman took the step of reaching out to the master and seek his blessings. But the unbeaten 73 at number 7 against Australia at Mohali in 2010 is also close to his heart. Set a target of 216, India was 124 for eight when Laxman pulled it off with support from Ishant Sharma and Pragyan Ojha to stun the Aussies.

“It was a very challenging situation for me and the team. Credit to Ishant because when he joined me the game was as good as over for India. The inevitable was that India was going to lose so Ishant and I concentrated on making them earn our wicket. I always had lot of faith in Ishant, who has a good temperament and defence. Slowly, the partnership grew and I noticed Ricky Ponting getting desperate. We were scoring from boundaries. Then the Aussies panicked. The life lesson I learnt from 281 was never to give up. I remembered it here. Idea was to hang in there. Honestly, when Ishant joined I never thought we would win but it became one of the most memorable Test matches I had figured in. Credit to Ishant and (Pragyan) Ojha later.”

In a rare gesture, Laxman gave Ojha a piece of his mind for responding late to a call. “It was the first time I lost control over my emotions. I was in pain. My back was troubling me. The game had come close and did not want to lose the opportunity to carve a remarkable victory. Ojha got confused with the runner. I was keen to take strike against Mitchell Johnson. For the only time in my career, I lost my temper on the field.”

Batting with tail-enders

Cricketer V V S Laxman

Cricketer V V S Laxman   | Photo Credit: V.V.Krishnan

He was so good when batting with the tail-enders. “Batting with the lower order was special. I couldn’t hit sixes at will. I had to look to stitch partnerships and that could happen if I helped the bowlers improve their batting and hang in with me. The tail-enders took pride in their batting. Ashish (Nehra), in fact, he thought he was an all-rounder (laughs). They listened to me and translated it into performances. I gave them the confidence by giving them strike. I would shield them but also show my faith in them. Slowly, they also started believing they could contribute with the bat. I felt nice when Harbhajan (Singh) and Anil (Kumble) got centuries in Tests.”

It is time for us to attack the salt and pepper tofu, lantern spice, followed by the main course of roasted zucchini, mapo soy mince, stir-fried Chinese greens, burnt garlic noodles and mushroom, and spinach fried rice. Laxman takes a good look, as he would before taking a strike at the crease, and does justice to the magnificent spread, just as he would in an innings laced with breathtaking strokes.

Laxman took long before he could enjoy a batting slot of his own. “I had different batting positions and I didn’t always mind. The reasons why I did not succeed as an opener happened because of some technical issues. The decision not to open anymore was crucial for me. In a team game, you can’t always get the role you desire. You have to adjust and adapt. In my case, it was number 6. It was not a natural slot because I was not a power player. But I worked hard to achieve success and I am very proud of it.”

Comparsions with Azhar

The food is vanishing fast and I have to grill him fast too. How about the comparisons with Mohammad Azharuddin? “I don’t think I have played any innings close to Azzu bhai’s skills. He was an artist. He had the ability to flick the ball from outside the off-stump to mid-wicket, square-leg, mid-on. None could do that. None. I may be a wristy batsman but Azzu bhai, he was an artist.”

As dessert is served (coconut ice cream), I ask Laxman if he was ever interested in cooking. “I cooked when I played club cricket in England. The first time when I went I carried a pressure cooker. My mother gave me a recipe book too. In 1995 and 1996, I did some cooking as I couldn’t afford to go to restaurants every day and being a vegetarian was a challenge. In 1997, I remember ordering a veg sandwich (in Kingston). It had salmon in it. I had to go to the chef and he gave me a real vegetarian sandwich.”

His interest in the education sector has been a secret. “Education is extremely important. It is the foundation of success in life. Not just academics. But all-round development is important and education can make you self-reliant. It is the backbone of a successful life.” As we step out of Jade, Laxman is mobbed by his fans. After the silent zone of the restaurant, he is in familiar territory now….

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Printable version | Jun 27, 2020 12:29:14 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/sport/cricket/vvs-laxman-spicing-it-up/article25678977.ece

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