Drawing his own Laxman Rekha

PTI

V.V.S. Laxman was an asset to Indian cricket and none acknowledged it better than his colleagues in the dressing room, writes Vijay Lokapally.

He was torn by the turmoil within. Should he continue playing international cricket or not? It was a situation that evoked memories of a time when he had to choose between a career in cricket and medicine. V. V. S. Laxman followed his inner voice. All through his career, his major decisions were self-made and driven by this inner strength that guided him. He stuck to the same path and emerged a hugely “satisfied” man. He had made the right decision at the right time. Indian cricket was to lose another stalwart after Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid had departed in that order.

It is well known that he was an artist at work, unflinching and hugely optimistic of success. He could step into a dicey situation and face it squarely because he had the gift of god to tackle pressure. He was full of talent, but then he worked tirelessly to hone it. His detail for perfection meant his batting was constantly evolving. He set new benchmarks every season and achieved them with the flourish and finesse of a maestro. Only, he rarely got credit from the demanding world of critics. Even some former players were guilty of undermining his brilliance on the field.

Laxman was an asset to Indian cricket and none acknowledged it better than his colleagues in the dressing room. Sachin Tendulkar rated his reading of the game high, often spending time with the gentle Hyderabadi to discuss the finer points of the game.

Rahul Dravid and Laxman were made for each other, giving the Indian middle-order awesome depth and strength. Dravid drew inspiration from Laxman and the two grew with every season and developed into big-match performers.

However, Laxman was always the first man to be hauled over the coals in a team game. Vice-captain on the tour to South Africa in 2007, he found himself omitted from the playing XI in the next two Tests in Bangladesh. He did not complain, took things in his stride, and waited for the time to make his statement. When he lost his place in the national team in 1999-00, he returned with some sensational batting that fetched him 131 (v Goa), 104 (v Andhra), 119 (v Bihar), 109 (v Railways), 128 and 177 not out (v Uttar Pradesh), 353 (v Karnataka) and 111 (v Mumbai) in one Ranji Trophy season.

Sunil Gavaskar praised Laxman’s leadership qualities when he led the India ‘A’ team in a tour match against the visiting Australians in 2001. Laxman was not a rookie, having captained India ‘A’, Board President’s XI and the Rest of India. But the closest he came to the captaincy of the Indian team was on that 2007 tour to South Africa. He lost his Test slot thrice. He kept his grief to himself. The team came before self and Laxman sought solace in advice from his parents, maternal uncle, coaches and of course, his inner voice. The Bhagwad Gita was always a companion and the little temple he would set in his room on tours was a source of strength and peace for this humble soul.

Laxman, ever the middle order batsman, was compelled to open by the team management till the time he decided enough was enough. He opted to be excluded from the playing XI than open. “I was mentally not prepared to open the innings,” he explained. The decision allowed him to grab a slot in the middle order with that epic 281 finally convincing the world of his amazing potential to swing a match single-handed.

Laxman had aimed to play consistently and he achieved his goal with huge scores. He ensured his place in a packed middle order and overcame the sense of insecurity that had troubled him for some time. “Honestly, I achieved more than I had expected from myself,” reflected Laxman. He will be remembered as one of the finest match-winners in Indian cricket.