I am a self confessed VVS Laksman fan. No batsmen, apart from Mohd Azharuddin, has made batting look so beautiful yet so easy. No batsman has made so many people go delirious with his stroke play as much as VVS .And I dare say, no Indian batsman has played as many match winning hands.
Laksman plays his 100th test next week in Nagpur- a tremendous achievement for any individual but even greater one for him since he has been on trial for virtually half his career. In fact I cannot think of any Indian cricket that has been treated so harshly by successive selection committees. Laksman scored 500 runs against the West Indies in a one day series in 2002 but two ODI’s after that he was told that he would not feature in India’s World Cup plans. After scoring 116 against Sri Lanka and a 93 against Pakistan in successive tests, he was dropped from the XI in the next series against England. And let’s not even debate his one day exclusions.
But this post is not about the exclusions- it is about celebrating a glorious career. To watch Laksman in full flow is to enjoy cricket in its most beautiful state. The elegant and easy cover drives, the flick through midwicket and amazingly the flick through mid off. When he is batting Laksman is like a beautiful newly wed bride- you want to keep watching and savoir every bit of the beauty as you never know when it will disappear.
I first heard about VVS in the mid nineties. From his early days he had a knack of getting big scores in domestic cricket but it wasn’t until he made his test debut against South Africa at Ahmedabad that I actually watched him for the first time. He looked allright in that Test scoring a crucial 50 in the second innings (an indication of things to come). It was only however at Kolkotta in 1998 that I first went into raptures over his batting. Against an Australian team which had been shot out for 233, Laksman, opening the batting, made 95 delightful runs. Time and again Shane Warne flighted the ball on his leg stump and time and again he kept flicking him between mid wicket and mid on. Experts will tell you that this is the most difficult shot to play in the game and it is more difficult against Warne who always turned the ball significantly but Laksman made it look as easy as stealing candy from a two year old.
Slightly before that, some one in the Indian selection committee had a bright idea of asking him to open the Test match innings. When you are 24-25 you don’t say no to anything that the selection committee says and hence Laksman opened the Indian batting for a brief period. He was largely a failure apart from one unforgettable innings at Sydney. There on an unusually quick SCG wicket he went on a rampage- playing some unforgettable shots especially of the back foot.
He was out of the Indian side for a bit after that but Laksman did not cry over spilt milk. He went back and did what he does best. He scored 9 hundreds in 11 first class innings including a triple hundred in the Ranji trophy semi final and a run ball hundred against Kuruvilla, Agarkar, Mhambrey and Bahutule in the Ranji trophy final. The selectors had no option but to draft him back.
Everybody knows about VVS and 281. That 281 was special because it was made when his side was a test down, following on and 270 behind. That 281 was special because it made his team win a test match and a test series against all odds against the best team in the world. That 281 was special because it was made on a 4th day wicket against Warne, McGrath and Gillespie. That 281 was special because a failure in that innings would have meant that VVS would have gone back to the Ranji trophy. Surely there cannot be a better innings ever played in the history of the game.
Thankfully for his fans he has proceeded to play a number of gems since then-so much so that it is difficult to pick his best innings. It could be the 148 at Adelaide which was instrumental in an historic victory or it could be the 178 at Sydney where for two hours on the second morning he made Tendulkar look like any ordinary cricketer. It could be the hundred he made against Srilanka at Ahemedabad when he gave a short master class on how to play Murali on a turning track or it could be his innings at Sydney early this year.
And there are those innings which weren’t big ones but extremely crucial in helping his side notch up memorable victories. The 79 at Perth, 72 at Johnsonburg, 69 at Trinidad all lead to unlikely and historic away wins. As did the 69 at Mumbai against Australia where on a dustbowl where the entire Australian team scored 94, it looked as if he was playing an inter-school match.
VVS also perhaps is the most ideal role model for youngsters to follow in these times when cricket is trying hard to keep off the new breed twenty-twenty fundas from encroaching its old traditional values. His cricket is more talked about then his hairstyle; he is not seen in too many endorsements and he does not make flashy statements to the press. Along with Rahul Dravid and Anil Kumble he remains the most model professional.
At the post match conference at Delhi VVS in typical modesty said that it was honour to play a hundred test matches. He thanked his family and his supporters who had helped him reach this land mark.
NO VVS-Thank you. Thank you for bringing so many smiles to our faces. Thank you for making this beautiful game even more enjoyable. Thank you a hundred times.