November 10, 2008

VVS Laxman: Very Very Special indeed


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

What a joy it has been following the career of VVS Laxman over the years. To me he is the most stylish batsman of the present generation. There is no better sight in cricket than to watch him bat.

He is one man who has all the time in the world to play his strokes. He has been blessed with the gift of timing that adequately covers the deficiencies in footwork. He may not be technically the most correct batsman but he is the one batter who can bring the crowd to its feet with his artistic stroke-play.

The fastest of the bowlers pitching the ball on or outside his off-stump have never been sure in which direction they would be hit when Laxman has been at the crease. While every other great batsman in the world would be content in cover driving those balls but you don’t know which route Laxman would take.

He may put the ball in the gap between cover and extra cover with precision and there is an equal chance of him rolling his wrist and on-driving it past mid-wicket. He has that knack of playing his stroke late that allows him to pierce the field at will.

Laxman has perfected the art of keeping the bowlers as well as the fielders guessing. The captains have often been found wanting in setting field for him. One can only sympathize with the fielding captains because it’s certainly not possible to have a ‘safe’ field for someone who has the rare ability of flicking the balls pitched well outside the off stump.

If you understand cricket you have to admire Laxman for doing justice with his initials VVS. He is certainly a very very special talent who is a born artist.

More than the runs and the centuries that he has scored for India, it’s his grace and poise that has distinguished him. He is the one and only batsman in the world at the moment whose graceful stroke-play passes the impression of being poetry in motion.

Laxman has scored prolifically against the toughest of oppositions. Not surprisingly his greatest knocks have come against Australia that has undoubtedly been the leading side in world cricket for the last many years.

Who would ever forget his epic knock at 281 against the Australians at the Eden Gardens, Kolkata, in 2001. The Indians were looking down the barrel and a series defeat looked round the corner. They had been defeated in the first Test and were forced to follow on in the second Test.

India needed something out of extraordinary to change the course of the proceedings. The follow-on fightback was led by none other than the Hyderabad touch artist who stood against the Australians with courage and purpose. His stroke-filled innings turned it around for India and the series was squared against all odds. By clinching the third and final Test the hosts managed to win the series they were most likely to surrender in the previous game.

More than seven years later Laxman scored another magnificent double century against the Aussies in his 99th Test at Feroz Shah Kotla Ground, Delhi. His defiant knock in the second outing saved the day for his team and earned the Man of the Match award for him.

He may not be a swift mover in the field, that has cost him his place in the one-dayers, but he still has fair amount of cricket left to him to delight the lovers of the game all over the globe.

He has played his 100th Test match at VCA Stadium, Nagpur. He would certainly regret his soft dismissal when in sight of another hundred that would have been a perfect gift for his fans in the landmark Test for him.


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