Cool customer

V. V. S. Laxman... his knock in Mohali will be spoken about for a long, long time.-AP

No one would have given India a chance to pull it off in the Mohali Test, but the seemingly easy going Laxman showed that he cannot be discounted and that too when the opponents happen to be the Australians.

During my early teens, I was strongly suggested that I watch the Hyderabad team in action and also that I make it a point not to miss the star-studded team take the field at the start of an innings. The folklore was that it was a sight not to be missed by a keen follower of the game as it was akin to missing the opening scene of a Bond flick. As suggested I somehow managed to get to the MAC Stadium during a TN-Hyderabad game in time and watched the Hyderabad side under Jaisimha take the field in the mid-1970s. The entire team was dressed in cream flannels (considered extremely hip then) and as an impressionable kid I was enamoured watching the cricketers from the land of Nizam get on to the field in great style. Perhaps those stars never forgot the adage “even if you are not a good cricketer, dress like one” drilled into every youngster those days. Further, they also must have felt it was their duty, in a way, to carry on the legacy of Nizam which epitomised style, elegance and charisma. These attributes come to mind the moment one thinks of the late Jaisimha or Abbas Ali Baig, Tiger Pataudi and a few others. So it was no surprise when batsmen like Azharuddin and Laxman, who use the cricket bat like a painter uses the brush to define his art, emerged from that part of the country. It was not until the last day of the Mohali Test that Laxman was able to display the steely side of his personality in the most telling manner.

The Test was poised for an exciting finish and as usual, the little master Tendulkar was expected to play a match-winning knock. The moment his concentration lapsed and he got out in a rare manner, it was all but over. No one would have given India a chance to pull it off but the seemingly easy going Laxman showed that he cannot be discounted and that too when the opponents happen to be the Australians. The Hyderabadi was struggling with a back injury and his batting in the first innings did not induce much confidence about his fitness. However, the man with supple wrists and a stout heart decided to battle against all odds. He was left to defy the Aussies in the company of the lower-order batsmen and he did it with aplomb. Then of course, the scenario of having to prolong the innings on his own with whatever support provided by the tail-enders was nothing new for him as he had done it several times over when he had played for the India U-19 and his State teams.

The tense situation hardly impacted his natural style of play and he treated the short stuff with impeccable timing and confidence to launch a counter-attack. The ball thudded into the fence every time the Aussies were slightly off, either in length or in line. That Ishant Sharma's contribution was vital is stating the obvious but Laxman was battling against too many factors. The high pressure situation brought the best out of Laxman, apart from providing an opportunity for everyone to marvel at his steely nerves. It also brought out the aggressive slant in Laxman, the human, when he chided Ojha for missing out on a single when every run mattered. I am sure that when Ojha recollects that particular moment sometime in the future, he will give himself a pat on his back as even the worst of treatment meted out to him by the selectors in the past had not made Laxman lose control of his temper.

The irony of it all is that Laxman has been and will probably go down as one of the lesser hailed cricketers for all his achievements. The cool customer that he is, Laxman refused to be drawn into debates along those lines during the post-match press conferences, which only goes to show that he is happy doing what he knows best — enthrall the public with his artistry. In the last few months, he has put an end to theories about his having to give way to youngsters with outstanding knocks. Unfortunately, his bravado in Mohali must have possibly aggravated the back injury which has resulted in him pulling out of the second Test.

Ricky Ponting must have heaved a sigh of relief and will temporarily stop pondering why Laxman was born as suggested by the SMS messages doing the rounds. Laxman is one of those rare gems of Indian cricket and in a sense he is the last survivor of the artistic breed that has become so rare in recent times. One hopes that he gets completely fit quickly and continues to mesmerise the followers of the game with his unique style of batting. The composed knock in Mohali will be spoken about for a long, long time and with his heroics there he has made it pretty clear that he has still got a lot to offer Team India.