The Laxmania that never was

HOW I wish V. V. S. Laxman proved viewers all over India all wrong by settling scores with them during the Georgetown Test vs the West Indies! It was on TV that VVS first scored, striking out in a vein adding centimetres to his six-foot stature. And on the small screen it is that Laxman has to hit the high sightscreen spots all over again. Not least because Wisden has proclaimed Venkatasai Laxman to be one of its Five Cricketers Of The Year. It was with a feeling of deja vu that Indian viewers absorbed this Wisden pronouncement. For Laxman had fallen steadily in viewing esteem since "Wisdenting" his name in the public imagination with that all-time 281 in the March 2001 Eden Test. "Eden is where Laxman is!" was the national TV anthem as each shot VVS brought off (in that dream second Test innings) became embedded in the psyche.

The first Wankhede Stadium Test itself against World champions Australia had witnessed Laxman step almost live out of the TV monitor to hit Shane Warne for three daredevil-may-care fours in his knock of 12 - after Sachin had stunningly gone for 65. It was the tall-masterly 281 Eden pace Laxman next set that galvanised the struggling Rahul (180) into laying low the Warney bogey. For a full 10 hours and a half did Laxman hold the screen for that 281, through 452 balls did VVS's virtuosity and vitality come as a TV eye-opener, the while we, beholden, beheld his finely honed blade unfurl 44 fours.

Mark Waugh, no less a wizard himself and looking on in genuine amaze, felt constrained to rush into "Waugh Zone" print, hailing Laxman's Eden 281 as the best innings he had ever viewed in his cricketing life and times. As VVS then sculpted 65 in the Chennai Test and was on 66 in the second essay during that do-or-die Chepauk last day, Mark Waugh threw himself - right across the telescreen - to supercatch Laxman. The spectacle of Laxman standing transfixed there, incredulously watching Mark Waugh having reached out for the seemingly impossible, is a moment enshrined in our telemindset.

I suppose that Chepauk 66, as a near match-winning follow-up to those Test knocks of 281 and 65 presenting a study in elegant variation, put the Wisden stamp on V.V.S. Laxman as one of the Five Cricketers Of The Year. I dare say Laxman's succeeding one-day sequence of 45, 51, 83, 11 & 101 also mattered in the Wisden countdown. TV-flesh out that one-day 45 at Bangalore - and in your mind's eye is the picture of Laxman playing a number of footloose shots (to start with) in a lazy effort to carry on from where he had so nerve-tinglingly left off in the Eden-Chepauk Tests.

It is this fatal looseness in technique that Laxman had still to correct as he somehow made it to the West Indies and news arrived of the Wisden honour being bestowed upon him. The hour in which Laxman was so noticed was such that it was a happening much like the Wisden 20:20 programme materialising on DD, notorious DD. To view Wisden 20:20 after that action-replay array was akin to watching Narottam Puri or Anupam Gulati the day after the TV fair.

Likewise, Wisden's Cricketer Of The Year rating in the case of Laxman looked, from the Indian viewership standpoint, as procrastinated a presentation as Wisden 20:20. In other words, we no longer needed the softwarehouse of Ananth Narayan to furnish us with the VVS stats. We had it all by heart since "Eden 281" - we are still trying to "figure out" why Laxman so vicariously delighted in so letting us down so many times since. It must reckon as a rare citation indeed for V.V.S. Laxman (with that Eden 281) to have ranked Wisden-6th behind Bradman's 299 not out - The Don's partner, running himself out, going for the great man's 300th run (Australia vs South Africa: Adelaide, January 1932)! Yet Laxman, as a creature of TV impulse, remains a seasonal striker of the cricket ball. On Channel 9, during the Tuesday of January 4, 2000, how Laxman wielded a willow holding us in thrall through 198 balls (in the third and final Test at Sydney) while carving out (with 27 fours and a five in an Indian total of 258 for 8) that telly-classy 167.

It was a showing that prompted our selectors belatedly to hold back Laxman in Australia even after VVS had been spot-dropped for the one-day Carlton & United series. How engrossed we then watched Channel 9 to view how fluidly Laxman would move on to the one-day scene - after that 167 (struck when Sachin's India was a whopping 402 behind Steve's Australia in the first innings)! Laxman's characteristic career retort was to come up with a C & U scoreline of 2, 2 & 3 against the same McGrath, Fleming and Brett Lee spearheading Australia; 9, 7 & 1 against Pakistan. Laxman since has continued cosily to believe that consistency is the virtue of mediocrity. Would VVS deign to give the lie, at least now in the West Indies, to this noxious notion as we wait, crystal-telegazing, for Laxman to reproduce the form that had Wisden, arguably, using this angularly gifted Indian as the rolled-gold shield to keep all Sachin contributions out of the Almanack's Top 100 Test Innings Of All Time.