‘Treat success and failure on the same wavelength’

“Success and failure are parts of anybody’s life. The key is self-belief and performing consistently in tough conditions,” V. V. S. Laxman tells V. V. Subrahmanyam.

One of the finest players in contemporary cricket has called it a day. For someone who delighted cricket lovers with his brilliance with the willow for 16 long years in Test cricket, Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman announced his retirement at a crowded media conference in Hyderabad, ahead of the two-Test series against New Zealand.

“I am deeply hurt by the comments that I am blocking youngsters’ chances by continuing to play. Let me remind you that I was never selfish and always took pride in contributing to the team’s success,” said a visibly moved Laxman.

The 37-year-old star batsman, who was part of the fabulous batting line-up which helped India become the No.1 Test team, shares his experiences and thoughts in an exclusive interview with Sportstar.

Excerpts:

Question: When you look back, how has the journey been in the world of cricket?

Answer: It has been wonderful. I was lucky that the Hyderabad Cricket Association promoted me and Zaki (Syed Moinuddin Zaki) from the under-16 level itself. They made us play in the under-19 grade the same year. It was a huge leap for us and very encouraging. Fortunately, by 18, I was on the verge of playing for Hyderabad in the Ranji Trophy.

Honestly, I feel that all the hard work and commitment I put in from the start of my career have culminated in 16 long years of international cricket. It has been an immensely satisfying feeling to have contributed to Indian cricket in my own way.

You have been one of the best examples of a young talent with no Godfathers really making it big. How was it possible?

Definitely, very lucky that way. I always came across people who were genuinely passionate about the sport and supported me at the right time. The stint at St. John’s Coaching Foundation (Secunderabad) gave me an idea of representative cricket for the first time. Success and failure are parts of anybody’s life. The key is self-belief and performing consistently in tough conditions. This applies to any talented youngster even now.

Who has been the biggest influence on you?

My parents (Dr. V. Shantaram and Dr. V. Satyabhama), no doubt about that. Especially, given the fact that sports was never an integral part of our family. But, the guiding philosophy which they taught was handling success and failure with equal ease.

Which knock really changed your career in the early days?

I think the 150-plus I got against Kerala in my very first match in the South Zone under-13 made me feel confident. That innings gave me recognition and more chances of representing Hyderabad. Fortunately, it was a smooth transition to different age groups.

What did the sport teach you?

Character. To treat success and failure on the same wavelength. It also taught me to be very balanced and obviously whatever I am today is because of cricket.

H. SATISH

When you walked to the crease in a Test match for the first time against South Africa in 1996, the non-striker was Mohd. Azharuddin. Were you conscious of the fact that comparisons would inevitably be made in terms of wristy elegance?

Well, I always regard Azhar bhai as one of the finest cricketers from India. I have great respect for him. Coming from the same city, the comparisons were inevitable as some of my strokes resembled his.

I will look at it this way. I am fortunate to have played along with him. I always remember the early stint (under-13) with the late M. L. Jaisimha Sir at the South Zone camp. I feel privileged to have played or shared experiences with these cricketers. It is a great feeling to have played with some of the best cricketers from Hyderabad.

What was the most difficult phase of your career?

It was when I had to prefer cricket to academics. That was the toughest moment of my life. Though there was always the dream to play for my country, I also had a natural desire to be a doctor, coming from a family of doctors. Luckily, my father gave me the complete freedom to choose any one of the two. Here the role of my uncle Baba Mohan was very crucial along with some of the coaches then.

Do you believe that it will be difficult for the modern-day young talent to make it as big as you did? Have things changed a lot in this regard?

Frankly, now-a-days it is more easy to perform and be recognised because of the media glare. There are many platforms for real talent to come good and the IPL is one such which pushes you into national reckoning. If you perform you are bound to get recognised

Is there a feeling that if only you had belonged to bigger cricket centres like Mumbai, Delhi or Benguluru, and started your career there, you would have had a different route to stardom?

I don’t think so. I take pride in being a Hyderabadi. I got a lot of support in all age groups. They always encouraged me to be a good cricketer.

Not many cricketers would have got such an indifferent treatment from the selectors as you did. How did you keep your cool and sustain the levels of excellence?

Thanks to the upbringing of my parents and my family background, I could handle highs and lows in a positive manner. For me, it was a continuous dream to play for the country.

What has been the most emotional phase when you had to muster all the courage and conviction to prove the critics wrong repeatedly?

Well, being a cricketer is the biggest challenge. And, playing the first Test was the most emotional and satisfying experience. It was apparently the wildest dream coming true then.

And, now when I had to take a final call on quitting, it was equally emotional and certainly not an easy one. But, I have no regrets when I look back.

From where did you draw the strength to emerge as a giant every time there was an effort to dwarf your achievements?

My parents and my entire family again. They, along with my well-wishers, were always the source of inspiration. The best part is that they never changed irrespective of whether I was performing or not.

What were your biggest moments as a cricketer?

There were many. But some stand out. Though I never played the World Cup that saw India as the No.1 team, being a member of the Indian team which was the world No.1 in Test cricket was one of them. The 281 against the Aussies in Kolkata in 2001 was another. That Test remains the most memorable match for me. In fact, that Test series was very special for all the players for it was also the best and the most memorable series. That series gave us the confidence that we can be the best. Clearly, the turning point of Indian cricket itself.

When you look back, what were the reasons for India becoming the No. 1 side?

It is important to remember that it was not a sudden transformation which had come in one year. It all started in early 2000 when Sourav (Ganguly) became the captain. I feel lucky to have played under Sourav, my first captain Sachin and M.S (Dhoni). They all led by example. Everyone was a true performer and all of them had traits of leadership.

How different was Sourav Ganguly as captain?

I must say that the combination of Sourav and coach John Wright was influential in changing the mind-set of Indian cricket itself. For, it was then that we started doing well consistently, especially abroad. And we had some amazingly talented individuals with the hunger for success, who played with great pride, worked really hard and showed great commitment levels.

How was it playing with Rahul, Sachin, Sourav and Sehwag?

It was an honour and I must say I am fortunate to have played along with such great cricketers. With Rahul it was a special feeling having played with him since the age groups. Though he was two years senior to me, we played a lot together, including the Zonals. He was inspirational. I have seen very few players prepare for every match in such a professional manner. He is a great example for any youngster in terms of how far hard work and commitment can take you.

So is the case with the other great teammates. The fact that each one of them held his own speaks of his greatness and value to the Indian team. Their contribution to world cricket itself is immense.

What impresses you the most about Indian cricket?

The brand of cricket we play is widely appreciated whenever we do well across the world. The nice mix of flamboyance makes Indians very popular anywhere. I think the BCCI should be complimented for all the infrastructure that is available now. Every State Cricket Association has now all facilities where players can improve skills and fitness levels. The way it is structured from the age groups to Test level is one of the salient features. The India ‘A’ concept is one such laudable step, for it brings you closer to national selection. Overall, the game has been taken to new heights.

When you make a critical analysis of the young talent, what in your view separates the performer from the pretender?

You should have the passion and the patience. It is more important to be determined than having just talent especially when you go through a tough phase. Instead of getting frustrated, one should really work hard. Again self-belief is the key. It is sad if talent drifts away for there are so many opportunities now. One has to overcome obstacles, which should be treated as a temporary phase.

Do you still regret not playing in a World Cup?

Definitely, it continues to be a huge disappointment. Again, I am not sure why. But, I think the closest I came to playing in a World Cup was in 2003. It will remain a big disappointment through my life.

What was it that you hated when you entered the field?

Nothing really. I enjoyed every moment on the field at any level. I am really passionate about the sport. Well, I feel terrible when it starts raining after I start batting really well (with a big smile).

It is said that there are some who don’t read media reports during big games. What is your take?

I do read a lot to keep updated about many aspects. I think everyone has a job to do. I learnt the hard way. You have to think of things on which you have control. This has been my philosophy. Apparently, no one can please everyone.

Are you sentimental like wearing the same gear or using the same equipment?

It is not like that. I have certain routines which I make a point to follow. Otherwise, there is nothing special about it.

What has been your funniest incident on the field?

Well (with a big smile), when I and Sourav collided while taking a single in an Oval ODI. It is still amusing and embarrassing when I look back as to how it could have happened.

What was the most disappointing moment for you?

There was nothing like that. But, I would feel terribly disgusted whenever I dropped a catch. I would feel sorry for the bowler who puts in such a great effort and the chance is floored! That hurt me the most.

What are your hobbies?

I love to spend time with my family members. It gives you so much of peace. I do love reading biographies of successful individuals. For, they help us know how they handled different aspects in life and in sport.

You are a complete family man now. Outside you are a celebrity and at home a normal caring father…

I am lucky to have such a wonderful well-knit family with a wonderful wife. And it’s a great feeling to see the kids grow up so fast. It’s a real joy to be with them.

Who are the cricketers whom you admire?

In my early days, Azhar. Well, Sachin is such a role model in every aspect. Kapil was a great inspiration too.

What is your favourite cuisine?

I am vegetarian. I love to taste all sorts of dishes. Thai cuisines are my favourite.

What kind of music do you normally listen to and who are your favourite singers?

India has been very fortunate to have seen so many great musicians and singers. And, I love listening to Kishore Kumar and our own S. P. Balasubrahmanyam, with whom I fortunately enjoy a special, personal relationship.

Which TV programme do you love to watch?

Generally I don’t miss any big sporting events and Wimbledon is one such that I love to watch without fail. And, with the family members I do enjoy watching the singing and dancing competition programmes. I am amazed at the talent actually.

Who was your childhood hero?

Childhood and current hero, it is my dad. I owe everything to him.

What is that you miss by being a cricketing celebrity?

I never thought of myself as a big cricketer. It is always nice to be with my family. My wife has all the qualities I look for. I have two wonderful kids and I am blessed to have such a family.

Have you given thought to post-retirement plans?

Well, I have a dream to set up a school and an academy. I am confident of realising this big dream.