It is said that in the Hyderabad of yore, one could walk into an Irani cafe to have a chai before the early morning cricket practice at 6am, find two old men debating about politics. Again when one went back at 9am to buy bread one could still see the same two old men this time talking about cricket. A throw back to such times is what VVS Laxman's batting is all about.
In today's times of T-20 cricket and sportsperson's increasingly looking like Hugo Drax's ideal human race it is ironical that the two batsmen who have catalyzed India's rise to the top in the ICC test rankings are both pot-bellied and bald. One only has to think that well oiled assembly line machine called the Australian cricket team and look at the fate of players like Martyn, Symonds, Warne (never to be captain) and Tait to name a few of the fate of players who would not conform to the win-at-all-costs mantra.
Our obsession with statistics implies that a middle order batsman who will probably end up with less than 10,000 runs and an average below 50 may never be counted in the pantheon of great batsmen that Sehwag, Sachin and Dravid are firmly entrenched in. But add 10 runs for each innings for the fact that VVS played at 6 with the tail and mediocre wicket keeper test batsmen (Dhoni included) and you get an average of 56 with close to 10000 runs.
But VVS's batting is more than just about the numbers. It is poetry in motion, batting as the gods must have conceived it. Throw back to the summer of 2004 and the SCG, the greatest batsman of my time is partnering VVS and for once Sachin is so overshadowed, so eclipsed by the sheer genius that is VVS. It was at this same venue in 2000 (ironically Sachin was captain then) Glenn McGrath over stepped by a couple of inches and so Shane Warnes catch at slip was dis allowed and what would have been a decent 50 from VVS was allowed to flower to an exemplary 167. The BCCI being what it is VVS probably has to thank that no-ball because his test career could have ended very well there and would have been consigned to one of the numerous what-if’s of India’s cricket players.
Rusell Arnold in the present series before the third test match was making a point that neither Dravid nor VVS have done much of note in this series and that they probably ought to be dropped. That great man called Professor Deano jumped to Dravid’s rescue but none was forthcoming for VVS. Three words come to mind to describe his response to such queries on his place in the squad – Grace Under Pressure, because whenever his place has come under scrutiny he has let his bat do all the talking.
Thanks to the BCCI’s magnanimity the final day of the last test match was on a weekend which meant I could watch it in real time. And what a delicious situation the match was in 200 runs needed on a fast deteriorating pitch. Once the formality of removing Ishant Sharma was taken care off by Randiv, VVS joined Sachin. It is very rare that the commentators these days actually say something of value but Arun Lal was spot on as the two removed all the sting out of the Lankan attack by saying “We are seeing two absolute masters of the game in action here”. VVS would have had to play against Mendis who had gotten him out 7 times (ironically in Mendis’s debut series where he ran through the Indians, VVS had the highest average after the openers Sehwag and Gambhir). The kind of form that VVS was in Mendis was greeted by an extra cover drive followed by an on drive the kind of which only VVS could play. Battling back spasms (the break for its treatment leading to Sachin losing his concentration and throwing his wicket away) VVS scored the kind of hundred that is most satisfying to any batsman, one that leads to the team winning. As Raina hoisted Welegedara to the mid wicket fence for a six one could only marvel at what we had watched an innings to treasure.
Arun Lal in a rare display of stating something other than the obvious uttered about Sachin and VVS’s partnership “This is probably not something that we will get to see again in Sri Lanka”. It left me feeling very old but unlike the way a grey fleck of hair this one seemed to leave a richer pleasanter feeling, like wine that that is ageing.