Viru was one of my favourites, says Laxman

"I feel honoured and privileged to have played alongside such a wonderful cricketer," says V. V. S. Laxman while paying tribute to his former team-mate and one of the most destructive batsmen in the history of the game.

I will always have fond memories of Viru, not just for his outstanding cricketing career but also for being a thorough gentleman,” says Laxman.   -  M. VEDHAN

He was a member of the famed Indian batting line-up that included Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman and Sourav Ganguly. A virtual destroyer at the top of the order, he was the last of the ‘Fabulous Five’ to announce his retirement from international cricket.

Reacting to Virender Sehwag’s retirement, his former team-mate Laxman proudly recalled his association with the dashing opener. “Firstly, let me tell you frankly, Viru was one of my all-time favourite cricketers. An entertainer par excellence who brought joy to millions of fans across the world with his batting style,” he said in an exclusive interview with Sportstar.

“I feel honoured and privileged to have played alongside such a wonderful cricketer. The hallmark of this wonderfully gifted cricketer was his uncluttered mind and the ability to stay positive in any situation. He not only scored runs quickly, but did so with big, big knocks as illustrated by his triple and double centuries in international cricket,” Laxman recalled.

“The biggest advantage the Indian team had with Viru opening was he could attack from the word go, take the battle into the rival camp. This enabled the middle-order batsmen to go out there and play their natural game. We were very fortunate to have such a player at the top of the order,” he added.

According to Laxman, Viru’s ability to attack was not confined only to Indian pitches. “His domineering attitude was the same even when we played abroad. He always scored runs very quickly. He was definitely instrumental in India recording some memorable wins abroad, for whenever he scored, India was always in a commanding position,” Laxman said.

“Honestly, because of the presence of players like Viru, there was great bonding amongst the players in the dressing room. He looked very normal but always spoke his mind. The beauty is, with his sweet and short talks he always ensured that there was no pressure at all in the dressing room.

“This, I feel, is one of the most important traits you look for in your colleagues and Viru was always there donning this role admirably. Everyone enjoyed his company and vice versa,” he added.

Talking of his association with Sehwag, Laxman said, “I never really had any long partnerships with Sehwag, but yes, what always struck me was his amazing levels of confidence. After I scored that 281 (then the highest individual Test score by an Indian batsman) against Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001, I remember Sehwag telling me that he would score a triple century in Test cricket. And mind you, this he said even before he had made his Test debut. This is one characteristic — supreme self-confidence — that is quite amazing. And the way he structured his talent and confidence to be so successful at the highest level is something to be really admired.

“I will always have fond memories of Viru, not just for his outstanding cricketing career but also for being a thorough gentleman.”

Talking of Sehwag’s memorable knocks, Laxman said, “Viru definitely played some of the finest knocks ever in recent memory in Test cricket too. His two innings are still fresh in my memory. The hundred against Australia in the Adelaide Test on the 2008 tour — it was so unlike Sehwag’s innings. He showed lots of patience and obduracy. Then there is that unbeaten double century, when he carried his bat, against Sri Lanka in Galle. Despite the fact that he was out of his comfort zone, Viru showed great character and temperament to play that wonderful innings.”

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Vijay Lokapally reports

HUMILITY IS HIS MIDDLE NAME

Noor Mohammad

(Jamia Millia Islamia)

I always marvel at his humility. I remember, he had returned from the Under-19 World Cup, and we were playing in the inter-university tournament. We travelled ordinary class to Jammu and slept on the floor in dormitories. He never grumbled. He was adamant that he had to play the inter-university tournament and I was amazed at his commitment. I have seen him from very close quarters, and never have I seen him raising his voice or speaking rudely. He has remained grounded and that is his greatest quality.

It is easy to be influenced when you attain fame, but Viru has been very respectful and caring. I remember when he came to the college he was asked to submit the form. Would you believe, he stood in the queue! He had already played international cricket but he stood in the queue like others to submit the form. Where would you find such humble players in contemporary cricket? We all know about his cricket exploits, but it is ‘off-the-field Viru’ who has stayed with me.

Mahesh Bhati

(Club cricketer from Delhi)

I have known Viru since 1994-95 when he was trying to make a mark as a junior. He was awesomely talented; he would smash the best of bowlers in local cricket. He established an early reputation as a batsman who could make runs at will. He always did what he wanted to, never tried to hide his emotions and always stuck to his decisions. For him, cricket was all that mattered. At Collage Group (a cricket club in Delhi), we only offered him matches because he refused to accept money for appearances and turned down offers of scholarships. All he wanted was for me to arrange gear — bats and pads — for him, which I did happily. He was never demanding. He even played on matting surfaces and travelled in public transport. For some of us he organised a trip to Sri Lanka to watch Test matches. We would play cricket and then badminton with the greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and M. S. Dhoni.

Raju Sharma

(first-class cricketer from J & K)

He is my friend and I am proud of him. Does it matter how long we have known each other? I have seen him from close quarters and can tell you he is a gem of a person. A friend, who stands by you in distress, and that is what makes him such a special person. I am not qualified to assess his cricket but he is the best. The world will tell you. What a batsman!

We all know he is a celebrity but he is such a down to earth person in the company of friends. I have not seen Viru say no to anyone seeking his help. Financial or moral help, you can bank on Viru. He has a big heart when it comes to helping others. He understands the needs of others because he has remained grounded despite the success he has gained over the years. He is a true role model.

Amit Bhandari

(former India seamer)

He is a man of his word and a great friend. And what a fabulous player! It was a joy bowling to him in the ‘nets’ because he made you understand that you had so much to learn. He would dismiss the best of your deliveries most nonchalantly and then tell you it was not a bad ball at all. It was a privilege to play alongside him because he gave you immense confidence. With Viru around you could think of achieving the impossible. He would be the first man to spend the evening with you if you had suffered a bad day in the field. He showed more concern when his colleagues ran into poor form. I have not seen a more generous cricketer when it came to looking after juniors.

He was a great asset to Indian cricket and off the field, he was a most genial man. Hard to believe the same man could be so ruthless with the bat in hand. I consider myself fortunate to be considered a friend by Viru.

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