Giridhar Hariharan | 11:39am gmt 22 Mar 2010
He looks like one of those purists. One of those who were born to play Test cricket and only test cricket. In an era of brash,young aggressive Indian cricketers like Virat Kohli, Yuvraj Singh and Sreesanth, it is a calming influence to know that you have someone like VVS in your team. It comes as little surprise that both his parents are doctors! There was no "Hyderabad bandh" when Laxman was dropped from the world cup squad in 2003 in favor of Dinesh Mongia and nor did Laxman make a fuss of it. He quietly went about doing his job. Doing what he does best and that was scoring runs.
I wanted to write about the least celebrated batsman of the Indian Fab Four, VVS Laxman. M.S.Dhoni does not really believe in the tag "Fab Four". Does he? But we certainly do. Dravid is the "wall", Tendulkar is the "God", Saurav is "dada", the man who is considered by many who reshaped and revitalized the Indian team. But what about Laxman? It's just as well that this laid back man from Hyderabad does not have a nickname (Very Very Special hardly counts. That is how he has gone about doing his job for the Indian team over the last decade, quietly and unnoticed.
If ever there was a question, Laxman?, the answer would be................................ 281. There is no doubting the fact that the epic 281 scored by Laxman at Kolkata was his best innings. Hell, it's probably the best innings of the last two decades, never mind his best innings. But his immense contributions in the middle order have been often but forgotten. For starters, he has batted most of his career at number six, a position which not many batsman would raise their hands for. And except for the last two years, where he has had Dhoni to follow him, he has had the unenviable task of batting most of his career with tail-enders.
Let us go all the way back to 1996, to his debut Test match. When Laxman comes out to bat in the second innings of the Ahmedabad test, India are effectively 61/4. Laxman walks in and he is soon left with the tail as Dravid departs immediately. VVS makes 51, which was the highest Indian score of the match. Laxman is the eigth batsman to get out as India is bowled out for 190. His 51 turns out to be a match winning effort as South Africa are bowled out for 105 in the fourth innings.
Laxman's TWO-EIGHT-ONE is etched in everyone's mind. But, not many remember his twin fifties in the final test of that series in Chennai. Laxman followed his 65 in the first innings with 66 in the second, in a total of 155 for 8 when India managed to beat Australia by two wickets. The next highest score in that innings was 25 by S.Ramesh.
Against South Africa in 2001 at Port Elizabeth, SA have batted first and scored 362. Laxman walks in at 47/4 and is the ninth man out as he runs out of partners after scoring 89. This innings was instrumental in India saving the test match.
Against West Indies Vs India, at the Queen's Park Oval in Port of Spain. India bat first. Sachin scores a 100. Laxman, who is left with the tail, scores 69 not out as India finish with 339. In the second innings of the same test he scores 74 out of a total of 218, as India go on to win their first overseas test victory for 18 years.
Against Australia in Mumbai, Laxman makes the highest score of the test match (69) on a minefield at the Wankhede. India makes 205 and bowl Australia for 93 to win by 13 runs.
The list can go on. Its unbelievable, the number of times he has had to bat with the tail (a weak Indian tail) and the number of times he has done it successfully. On numerous occasions he has had to shepherd the strike, avoid singles in order to shield the tail, and take risks in order to score quick runs. Also, on numerous occasions, Laxman has scored 50's and 60's in extremely tough batting conditions which have turned out to be match-winning efforts or match-saving efforts.
How many of us know that in the last 3 years, Laxman has been the 5th best test batsman with an average of almost 60 per inning. His average during this period has been more than the likes of Ponting, Dravid, Kallis, and "god" himself. (Sachin's avg is 59.12 and Laxman's avg has been 59.42). During this period Sachin scored twelve centuries and eleven fifties while VVS has scored only five centuries and sixteen fifties.
This can be looked at in two ways:
1) Laxman does not kick on to score big hundreds after getting starts.
2) Laxman is very very consistent and reliable.
The reason I favor point number 2 here is that, by the time Laxman reaches 50, invariably India is 7 or 8 down. He is either stranded or he gets out trying to score quick runs for his team.
It is sad that test cricket is dying, especially in a cricket-crazy country like India. No doubting the talent of Sreesanth, Kohli and Yuvraj. But, you would not want kids to look up to these cricketers as role-models. With the demise of test cricket, I am afraid the endangered species of cricket like VVS Laxman will become extinct and the tag of cricket being a "Gentleman's game" will also be taken away.