The Fantastico Indian Cricketer I grew up Adoring - Part III
India has always been blessed with batsmen who were brilliant players of the pads and who possessed supple wrists but the batsman that I'm going to write about in this post was a batting wizard with the bat in hand. Watching him bat was like witnessing a master sculptor create a master-piece from nothing but a slab of stone, it was like watching the Sun rise slowly to dispel the darkness all around with it's brightness, it was like hearing a melody being composed by your favourite composer.
Vangipurapu Venkata Sai Laxman (VVS Laxman)
VVS Laxman was from Hyderabad and just like another man from the same town, former India captain Mohammed Azharuddin, VVS possessed special wrists. Rubbery and extremely supple the work that he put on the ball using those wrists was almost magic. He could put balls pitching miles outside the off stump through the leg side or he could cover drive them or straight drive them as and when he liked. At times it seemed that the impact of ball on bat was happening in extra slow motion while he was batting. It depended on his mood and he could baffle the opposition with his batting.
Laxman made his Test debut in 1996 and was tried as an opener, a position India were desperately looking for someone to fill, but he did nothing spectacular or out of the ordinary. He was dropped around 1999 but he returned to domestic cricket to further home his skills. He returned in 2000 and made a fantastic 167 at Sydney against the Australians. That innings started his long love affair with the men in Baggy Green.
His most memorable performance came in the 2001 test series against the all-conquering Australians who were on a hot winning streak of 16 consecutive test match wins. India, having lost the first test was following on in the second test was staring at yet another defeat but Laxman produced the finest test innings ever played under pressure and combined with Rahul Dravid for an epic partnership of 376 runs. Laxman would score 281 and Dravid 180, India would win the test and the next one as well with Laxman making half centuries in both innings. How he mastered Shane Warne in that series is something is permanently etched in my mind. He would play balls pitching a foot outside leg stump and turning in towards the mid-wicket for boundaries. When Australia placed fielders on the leg side, he would skip down the track and making room slap the ball through through the covers! On a dusty turning track Laxman reduced the best leg spinner the world has ever seen to a mere spectator. After the series, Warne admitted he was clueless as to where to bowl to Laxman.
Laxman would continue to torment the Aussies right throughout his career and seeing the men from down under brought the best out of the soft spoken and humble Indian batsman. He could never cement his place as an ODI batsman though and played only 86 matches.
His end came when India lost 0-4 to England and Australia on consecutive away tours. He could only muster 4 half centuries across those 8 tests. In all he played 134 tests for India and scored over 8700 runs with an average of almost 46. VVS was a very very special player whose fond memories will always continue to find a special place in every fans heart.