‘I am living my dream'

“I feel honoured. I consider it a recognition for all the efforts I have put on the field over the years. I am delighted to receive this prestigious award,” says V. V. S. Laxman of the Padma Shri. Over to V. V. Subrahmanyam.

Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman, 36, has often redefined the levels of excellence. The season that has just gone by saw the elegant Indian middle-order batsman at his imperious best, pulling his team out of one crisis after another. He has always excelled while batting under adversity.

It is quite strange that a player of the calibre of Laxman (120 Tests, 7903 runs, 16 centuries and 49 half-centuries; Ave: 47.32) has always been on trial all through his career. Yet, each time he has hit back with the willow to silence his critics, and this in itself is a mark of his greatness. And when he was conferred the Padma Shri, it was an apt recognition for this truly outstanding cricketer from Hyderabad.

In an exclusive interview with ‘Sportstar', Laxman shares his views on a variety of subjects.

Excerpts:

Question: You are always cited as a shining example of how a young cricketer from a middle-class family grew up the hard way to play for India in demanding conditions. But how do you visualise the scenario for some of the talented youngsters today?

Answer: I think it is much tougher now for the youngsters as there is more exposure and opportunities today as compared to when I started my career. But having said that, I always feel, irrespective of the time you are playing the game, that if you are committed to your game and if you keep performing consistently, then you cannot be ignored.

Does it hurt you when someone who you believe is immensely talented drifts away and ends up nowhere for whatever reasons?

Yes, I have seen so many talented cricketers face this unfortunate situation for various reasons. There were many talented players who could have played for a long time. You feel quite sad when such players don't realise their potential because ultimately it is a loss for the country.

What is the big change that you see in the game and in your attitude towards the game since you made your debut in 1996?

The biggest change is that the game has become more fast-paced for the good and there are more results in Test matches. You are also getting to see more exciting Test matches. Also, there's a lot more media attention now than when I started in 1996. The game has become more popular and it's great that lot more players are taking up cricket as a profession.

Looking back, after 15 years of international cricket, how do you sum up your achievements? Is there anything else that you feel you could have achieved?

I feel very fortunate to have represented India for such a long time. In a nation where every kid dreams of playing for the country and where there is so much of competition and talent, I am blessed to have played for India in more than 100 Test matches. I think the experiences I had in my career are something that I will always cherish. All I can say is that I am living my dream.

How do you compare your experiences in the current Indian dressing room with the days when you made your Test debut?

I have been lucky to be part of many great Indian teams, but I must say I have really enjoyed the dressing room atmosphere in the last three years since Gary Kirsten took over as the coach. The atmosphere in the dressing room is relaxed irrespective of the challenges we face on the ground. The bonding of the team is also great; we all enjoy each other's success and are ready to help anyone who is going through a tough time. I feel team bonding is the hallmark of a great side.

What really hurts you on a cricket field? Or rather, what is it that you hate to see happen on a cricket field?

The sight of someone not giving his 100 per cent on the field, especially when he is playing for the country.

Are you sentimental? How do you approach a Test match — still the same way as you played your first Test?

I am not sentimental but I have certain routines that I follow before each match.

What are your mental preparations before a Test match? Do they differ depending upon the events you take part in, say like the IPL, Duleep Trophy etc.?

Well, they differ for each game. My preparations essentially include analysing the kind of wicket I am likely to play on and what kind of bowlers I am going to face. I then come up with a game plan for each match.

Were there any occasions when you felt cornered by the circumstances, times when you found it really difficult to handle things?

Laxman and the little master. "I feel it's a great honour for me to play alongside Sachin whom I admire for not only the player that he is but also the person that he is," says Laxman.-AP

Yes, there were a lot in my career, but I feel great that I was able to bounce back strongly and overcome the challenges that I faced.

In such moments, whom do you normally look to for support?

Mostly my family members and my uncle. Their advice to me has always been to stay as level-headed as possible. Whenever I am in some sort of a crisis, I always bank on these people to extend their moral support.

Honestly, do you read all the media reports during a Test match or a series, and if there is criticism how do you take it?

Not too much honestly. I always believe that everyone has the right to express his or her opinion. And, it is not right for me to judge whether their opinions are right or wrong. I always try to concentrate on the things I can control — that is playing well for my country.

Who has been your biggest source of strength in a crisis, both on and off the field?

I should thank my parents (Dr. V. Shantaram and Dr. V. Sathyabhama) for the wonderful upbringing I had. They only drilled the positives in me, both in life and in sport. No negative thoughts at all. So obviously I rely a lot on them when I face a tough situation.

Having played in more than 100 Tests, how do you explain your status in the Indian team — a senior player, a guide or a mentor?

I never hesitate to share my experiences with the younger players. I feel I have learnt a lot from my seniors, and I feel it's my responsibility to pass on my experiences to the youngsters. But I do only when I feel there is a need and only to players who are receptive to my suggestions.

What is it that you miss the most when on tours?

My family members for sure, specially the kids since they are growing up. But again these are the small sacrifices one has to make for the huge honour of playing for the country.

What keeps you relaxed, reading a book, watching your favourite TV programme…?

I love reading books, listening to music or watching movies. I also love spending time with my friends.

Which book do you like the most and why?

The book that inspired me a lot is Lance Armstrong's autobiography, ‘It's Not About the Bike: My Journey Back to Life'. (Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times after surviving testicular cancer).

There is always a feeling that you never really got your due despite being a member of the ‘Fabulous Four' (Sachin, Dravid and Ganguly are the others) for a long time?

I don't want to think in a negative manner. And this is an unending debate, but not for me (he smiles). All I can say is that I am privileged and honoured to have played with such great cricketers. I would like to remind you here what my parents taught me when I was growing up — ‘What you give to the country is more important than what the country has given to you'. So essentially, every time I play for India only one thing crosses my mind, which is to do my best for my country. And this is what I have tried to do.

When fielding in the slips or being at the non-striker's end, whom would you love to watch the most at the crease?

I have been fortunate to play with and against some great batsmen in the world. I admire players like Lara, Ponting, Inzamam, Kallis… the list can go on. But I feel it's a great honour for me to play alongside Sachin whom I admire for not only the player that he is but also the person that he is. Also, I am a great fan of Sehwag.

If you are asked to pick the three finest moments of your career — not rank them — what would they be and why?

Playing for the country for the first time (in 1996 against South Africa), scoring 281 against Steve Waugh's Australia at Eden Gardens in 2001 and being a member of the Indian team that is ranked World No. 1 in Test cricket.

In this context, what do you have to say about the Padma Shri Award that was conferred on you recently?

I feel honoured. I consider it a recognition for all the efforts I have put on the field over the years. I am delighted to receive this prestigious award.

When not busy with cricket how do you spend your time?

I like to spend as much time as possible with my family. Also, I like to catch up with my friends.

Like many other cricketers, do you also feel that one of the biggest prices you pay as a star is to lose your privacy?

I feel it's all a part of being a successful cricketer in India. I think that actually the fans are acknowledging and appreciating my contribution to Indian cricket and I feel great when this happens.

Which other sport do you watch the most and who are your idols?

I watch a lot of tennis and my first idol was Pete Sampras. Now of course it is the great Roger Federer. Truly fantastic players and great role models for not just sporting excellence but the way they have gone on to achieve such stardom. I also love badminton and squash.

Sincerely, are you thinking of life after cricket?

I have a dream of setting up a school and a sports academy in Hyderabad. I feel education plays an important role in one's development and I want to do something in this field which will be in a way contributing to the future of the country. Also, I want to set up a sports academy so that I can share all my experiences with the younger generation. I feel professional coaching is the need of the hour for our youngsters.

Is there a dream that you are still chasing?

(With a big smile) Playing in the World Cup — which is never going to happen. No, on a serious note, I feel that as long as I represent my country I want to use each match to do something special for India.

What is the biggest regret in your career?

Again, not playing in a World Cup. Other than that I feel contented with my career.

Would you like your children to take up sport?

Like my parents, I leave the choice to them. Yes, if they show interest in any sport, I will extend all the support they need. To put it simply, I will do exactly what my parents did to me.

Your favourite team to win the World Cup this time?

I feel India has to be the leading contender for the World Cup. The team has a lot of match-winners and also a very good balance of experience and youth. Also, I feel the home conditions will definitely be an advantage for us.