VVS Laxman will undoubtedly be remembered as one of India's greatest Test batsmen and a cricketer who excelled in pressure situations; but for all his success in the longest format, the stylish Hyderabadi had a rather frustrating career in coloured clothing.
For a batsman of Laxman's calibre and talent, a limited-overs career of 86 matches in eight-and-a-half years (April 1998-December 2006), is by all accounts, a disappointing and unfulfilled one. In those matches, Laxman scored 2338 runs, including six centuries and 10 half-centuries at an average of 30.76 and a strike rate of 71.23. In one-day internationals, Laxman batted mainly at the No.3 position - all his centuries and nine of his half-centuries were scored at one-drop. Laxman made 1966 runs at an average of 35.74 and strike rate of 74.52 in the 59 innings that he batted at the No. 3 position.
These are decent numbers but like the man himself, Laxman's ODI record doesn't scream out for attention, and this is one of the reasons he didn't get as long a run as he would have liked in coloured clothing. In what is bound to go down as one of the more disappointing facets of his career, Laxman didn't represent India in a single World Cup, and he has admitted that being looked over for the 2003 World Cup was a bitter pill to swallow.
Here are a few factors that impaired what should rightfully have been a roaring ODI career:
FITNESS: Laxman has had his fair share of injuries - especially in the back and knees - and these have interrupted his runs in ODIs. Laxman has played more than 20 ODIs only in two years - 25 in 2004 and 21 in 2002. While other factors also played a hand in Laxman's curtailed ODI career, his fitness or the lack there of is one of the more important ones.
LACK OF SPEED: Laxman is a safe fielder in the slips, but he has never been the fastest either running between the wickets or inside the circle and outfield. The inability to convert ones into twos, and twos into threes, proved to be a deciding factor in his omission from India's ODI team post-2006, as the emphasis increasingly moved towards teams consistently looking to steal as many extra runs as possible and put the fielding side under pressure.
And, while fielding, his lack of speed around the field ensured batsmen could always pinch that extra run or two, and in the context of close matches, those are huge margins.
Laxman also thinks twice before diving to stop the ball, and in an age where athletic prowess in the field is encouraged, despite all his talents, this was a huge negative for his selection to the ODI team.
BATTING ONLY SKILL: There is no doubting Laxman's ability as a batsman - his brilliant hand-eye co-ordination, the ease with which he faces up to the best of deliveries in the middle, his on-side game, his wristy and willowy shot-making all make him a joy to watch. Laxman also has that rare ability of hitting the same delivery to either side of wicket, and when in full flow, he gives opposition captains and bowlers an almighty headache on where to bowl to him.
Unfortunately for Laxman and the Indian ODI team, batting was the only skill he brought to the table, and when the focus moved to having a 50-over team with versatile cricketers and all-rounders, this gift proved to be his curse. Rahul Dravid made his way back to India's ODI team as a wicket keeper-batsman, but for Laxman, that wasn't an option; and his liability as a fielder only hastened his exit from the ODI team.
RIGHT MAN, WRONG TIME: Laxman had to fight for his spot not only with emerging youngsters at the time like Yuvraj Singh, Mohammad Kaif, Suresh Raina and Robin Uthappa; but also with Dravid who had successfully re-invented himself as an ODI player.
Laxman may not be wrong in thinking he was made the scapegoat to make way for the next generation in ODIs, and while one may wonder what could have happened had he been given enough rope and encouragement to succeed in limited-overs cricket, there is no denying the fact that despite some important and well-compiled knocks, not having a successful ODI career will rankle 'Very Very Special' no end.
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