Kapil Dev has one word missing from his dictionary. Flashback. Which is why, without batting an eyelid, he is able to advocate that VVS Laxman should have called it a day along with Rahul Dravid, after the series Down Under. His argument is that a youngster would have got a chance to don the India cap against New Zealand, if VVS had walked into the sunset. Kapil-paaji conveniently forgets that woefully out of form, he laboured for close to two years to go past Sir Richard Hadlee’s haul of 431 and retire at 434 Test wickets.
A couple of other former India cricketers, with access to a mike or a keyboard, too have voiced similar opinion. And that seemed to have had the effect of getting under Laxman’s skin. So much so that the man, who was sweating it out at the National Cricket Academy in Bangalore the last couple of months and played league cricket in Hyderabad, and in the Safi Darashah Trophy match against Karnataka in Mysore (hitting centuries in both outings) to prepare himself for the two-Test series against the Kiwis, decided suddenly that “it was enough”.
Which begs the question : Has VVS Laxman Retired Hurt?
From those close to Laxman, one gathers the last week has been decision time for the Laxman. And finally, on Friday, he confided in some friends that he is drawing the laxman rekha on his international career.
His well-wishers told him it would be very very special if he padded up for the last time for India in Hyderabad.
“When I retire, I want to do it on a high note. No one should be pushing me to call it a day,” Laxman had once said to his coach-cum-mentor John Manoj. The forced decision to call it quits is unfortunate, especially for a cricketer, whose USP has been timing. From his 281 at the Eden to the 167 at Sydney to the 148 at Adelaide, Laxman has willed the ball to go where he wanted. It is a sad commentary on Indian cricket’s lack of grace that 155 runs from eight innings with an average of under 20 against Australia was enough for all and sundry to announce a VRS for Laxman.
Laxman, whose parents are doctors, has the same clinical approach to his batting. On many an occasion, he has been what the doctor ordered for India, especially in second innings. India’s best crisis manager, he has often played a dual role coming in at number 5 or 6 – scored runs from one end and played coach to the tailenders, encouraging them to hold up one end.
281 not out in 2001 at the Eden Garden has been Laxman’s calling card for the last eleven years. The innings was ranked sixth in Wisden’s list of 100 great Test innings in the history of the game. Showing the Aussies their place in the most gentlemanly manner, Laxman rewrote mythology that day. That in the modern era, he would deliver the sanjeevini for India. And ever since, many an India vs Australia series has transformed into a Laxman vs Australia duel, prompting a cheeky Ricky Ponting to say “I hope his back is pretty sore for the next week as well and he can’t play” in October 2010.
Or as Brett Lee parroted what Steve Waugh told him once, “If you get Dravid, great. If you get Sachin, brilliant. If you get Laxman, it’s a miracle.”
But despite commanding huge respect from his opponents, Laxman never quite got his due. He remains one of the few cricketers, who despite playing 134 Tests, did not get the chance to lead the country. Perhaps living up to his mythological name of only helping his leader.
He was very upset when he was overlooked for the World Cup squad in South Africa in 2003, losing his place to Dinesh Mongia. To have played for India for 16 years and not been included in one World Cup squad, Laxman considers the low point in his international career.
Laxman displayed magnanimity in refusing Icon player status for Deccan Chargers so that the IPL franchise from Hyderabad could have a bigger purse to spend at the auction. In return, he received shabby treatment, losing his captaincy to Adam Gilchrist and DC did not even bid for Laxman in the fourth season. VVS was `purchased’ by Kochi Tuskers and IPL5 saw him going unsold. But VVS has chosen to remain silent about these unsavoury innings in his playing career.
Laxman has, on his agenda, `Mission Hyderabad’ left. To take his Ranji side, which was bowled out for the lowest score ever of 21 in 2010, back to the days of glory. Which means his cricketing opponents cannot afford to be Lax, because the Man is not finished yet.