Celebrating Laxman

V.V.S. Laxman with his maternal uncle Baba Krishna.-P.V. SIVAKUMAR

What I always saw in Laxman was his tremendous patience and perseverance, and he listens to good advice. I have not come across a better listener and you will hear the same observation from his coaches, writes R. Baba Krishna Mohan.

From the time Laxman was born — in 1974 — and till around 1979, I played league and college cricket. During this period, I used to spend long hours in the backyard doing shadow practice and wall knocking with a tennis ball. Laxman used to come crawling to the door and watch me. I still remember his bright smiling face. He simply loved what he saw. That I believe was his first introduction to the game.

We had a cemented front-yard at our home, ‘Shyam Vihar’, where I used to play a lot of cricket. As they grew up, Laxman and his elder brother (Rama Krishna) took to cricket and whenever they came home during the weekends or during summer vacation we used to play the game. One thing differentiated Laxman from the rest of us — his elegance and natural ability to quickly pick the ball and hit it on the up. He loved the game too much, had uncanny hand-eye coordination and a natural flair and style. We all used to love watching his natural skills and I used to always tell my sister “He will become a great player”. I also wanted him to quickly go for coaching since he had the skills and capability to make it really big.

The St. John’s Coaching Academy was founded in the year 1987 by former India cricketer and Hyderabad captain M. V. Narasimha Rao and was located at St. John’s school playground, just next to my house in East Marredpally, Secunderabad. I asked Laxman to come over and took him to join the camp on the very first day.

When he was young, Laxman was more compact, stylish and beautiful to watch compared to later period, when he grew tall and started crouching in his stance. He has always been a player who blossoms the longer he stays in the middle and his foot work gradually improves. He plays seven shots exceptionally well — the straight drive, on drive, off drive, cover drive, flick off the toes, pull and backfoot punch through the covers.

February 15, 1987, was a very important day for Laxman as he scored his first century (153) against Andhra in an under-13 tournament played in Vijayawada. A stint in the Bradford League, Yorkshire, did a world of good for Laxman. The late Phil Carigg, who captained Yorkshire, recognised Laxman’s immense potential and worked closely with him. He also took good care of him and made Laxman’s stay in England happy, homely and enjoyable.

Many people feel Azhar had a tremendous impact and influence on Laxman. Not true! Laxman always played wristy shots from his childhood. It’s the ‘Marredpally Effect’. Marredpally is where Laxman learnt his game and Marredpally is where M. L. Jaisimha lived. If there was any influence, it was Azhar’s discipline in fielding, commitment and stress on physical fitness which made a deep impact on Laxman.

V.V.S. Laxman was always in command while playing the pull.-AP

Laxman also had the opportunity to work on his game with Jaisimha. The original ‘Stylish Hyderabadi’ was appointed coach of the Hyderabad Ranji team and Laxman was his ‘Arjuna’.

What I always saw in Laxman was his tremendous patience and perseverance, and he listens to good advice. I have not come across a better listener and you will hear the same observation from his coaches. He is very meticulous in his practice sessions. He works very hard on his physical fitness.

In public Laxman comes across as an unruffled stoic character, but there have been times when I have seen him disturbed. For example, after the 167 in Sydney, he played just one more Test before he was shown the door. He went back to Ranji Trophy and scored over 1400 runs (10 centuries in 10 innings) and found his way back into the Test side. Even then during the Australian series in 2001, after he failed in the first Test in Mumbai, some Test cricketers tried to convince him to open the batting. He flatly refused and what followed at Eden Gardens is unparalleled in cricketing history.

Laxman has come a long way from 1991-92. He was on the fringe of making it to India under-19 side, when he had to take the vital decision of choosing cricket as a career over medicine. He had just missed making it to the under-19 tour of South Africa the previous year and at the same time scored around 95% marks in the Grade XII exams. I managed to convince my brother-in-law and sister, who took the difficult decision of giving him time to prove himself in the game. The decisive factor was his exceptional performance during Indian colts tour of England. The team manager, Sandeep Patil, ticked Laxman as “one for the future”.

Personally no regrets on his retirement though I would have loved to see him play against Australia and retire after playing the last Test at Eden Gardens.

I take this opportunity to thank all the coaches, guides and supporters of Laxman — in particular John Manoj, Ashok, Sandeep Patil, late Phil Carigg and late M. L. Jaisimha.

The writer is V. V. S. Laxman’s maternal uncle.