VVS Laxman – Mr Elegance to Mr Crisis Man

cricket blogs for Yahoo Cricket Columns

Five years ago, I wrote "at 30, Laxman is the youngest member of the famed quartet and it can be said that his most prolific years are ahead of him." Naturally, I am doubly happy that the touch artist from Hyderabad has proved me right but to be candid almost anyone could have made the same prediction. From Mr Elegance to Mr Crisis Man, VVS Laxman has played the whole of gamut of roles combining substance with style along the way.


In a poll conducted on a website a few years ago, Laxman's 281 against Australia at Kolkata in March 2001 was adjudged the greatest innings ever played by an Indian in Test cricket. It was final confirmation of something that had been acknowledged by cricket followers, experts and fellow players ever since he crafted an unforgettable knock - a near triple century of epic proportions which turned a Test match around on its head so markedly that only for the third time in Test history a side that enforced the follow on crumbled to defeat.


Since then, Laxman has taken his rightful place in India's famed middle order blending admirably with the others to form a quartet that gives bowlers the shivers. And it is a tribute to Laxman's class, skill, technique, temperament and artistry that even in such a dazzling line-up he has more than held his own, frequently coming to the team's rescue when the others have failed.


As the 2004 edition of Wisden noted after Laxman elegantly pieced together two match saving knocks against New Zealand at Mohali in October 2003: "There are times when John Wright, India's Kiwi coach, must be feeling like dropping to his knees and kissing the feet of VVS Laxman. It was Laxman after all who saved Wright's skin at Kolkata in 2001, his epic 281 setting the scene for one of Test cricket's most famous wins. 


And, he was at it again at Mohali first compiling an unbeaten hundred as India fell just seven runs short of the follow on mark and then defying New Zealand  for most of the final day to consign the second Test and the series to an honourable draw. Indian administrators are not known for their tolerance when their team loses at home and Wright would have been in the firing line had the side folded."


Wright will not be alone in paying tribute to Laxman. His captain, teammates and the average cricket fan would be all too eager to adopt an obsequious approach towards Laxman. A stylist with a solid base, Laxman is very much a noble torchbearer of the rich Hyderabadi tradition of producing players who possess a silken elegance. Oriental artistry was seen in abundant measure in the batting of Jaisimha and Azharuddin. 


Laxman has carried on where Azhar left off. Wielding his bat as if it were a wand he just caresses the ball away from the reach of the fieldsmen playing shots that only he can. His drives are of the ethereal quality and the very personification of elegance and timing. Laxman is the one batsman who plays one of cricket's more difficult strokes - the on drive - with utmost fluency.


Body balance, movement of the feet and adroit placing of the stroke has repeatedly seen the ball elude the fielder, bisect the gap between mid wicket and mid on  and race to the fence. His cutting, both square and late, is a joy to watch and to old timers bring back happy memories of Viswanath. Like Azhar, he plays the glance and the glide through slips so fine that it is impossible for any captain to set a field for him. With all his attacking instincts Laxman's defence is secure - assuredly so as his batting is based on an impeccable technique.


The rescue act in the recent Test at Colombo was but the latest in a long line of sublime knocks played under pressure when the team is facing defeat. The great thing about Laxman is that even in such circumstances his batting is not laboured but remains charming.


This was best brought out by Sachin Tendulkar, when he and Laxman added 353 runs for the fourth wicket against Australia at Sydney in 2004. The two matched each other in run production but in stroke production Laxman stole a march over the maestro.


Tendulkar was effusive in his praise. "When he played all those shots, I decided it was best just to watch and enjoy his batting, rather than trying to do what he was doing." Yes there are strokes the like of which only Laxman can produce. 


There are certain quaint equations in Indian cricket. One that comes immediately to mind is Sunil Gavaskar + Queen's Park Oval = century. A more recent one would be VVS Laxman + Australia = success. He relishes Aussie bowling and this is the ultimate confirmation that when the opposition is stronger Laxman gets better.


How did he explain his phenomenal success against Australia once asked an interviewer? Trust Laxman to come up with a typical reply. A shrug of the shoulders, a shy smile and an answer so very inimitable Laxman: "I don't really know." The modesty and unassuming nature of this soft-spoken team man is almost unreal.

But there is nothing modest about Laxman's record and that is thoroughly real. Like his batting, he is all grace off the field too. Indian cricket is blessed by the pristine art of Laxman as well as his gracious behaviour. And like good wine he is getting better with age. After 80 Tests he had just ten hundreds with an average of a little over 42.


In the next 33 Tests he has scored six more centuries and his average has leapt to over 47. Where all this will end is anyone's guess but the upward graph will no doubt continue whether he is playing Mr Elegance or Mr Crisis Man.