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281 – Retired great

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Tribute to VVS Laxman on his retirement from cricketVangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman has walked out of the sitcom that is Indian cricket as nonchalantly as he batted in it. Just when the selectors decided to be royal screw-ups and offer him a ‘sympathy series’ , Laxman has done what he always has – put the team before self. To be honest, a farewell series would have been like asking Dhoni to play with a high elbow. It’s just not his style.
 
His style was scoring runs when the team’s back was up against the wall. One only needs to YouTube 281 v Australia, Eden Gardens, 2001 to watch the silken touch of Laxman. Though he has played many match winning innings, like the 96 in South Africa in 2011, his highest score in Tests remains etched in the minds of every Indian and Australian cricket fan. While Indians remember it with pride, Australians remember it with fear – an emotion one wouldn’t associate with Laxman. Just 5 years after his debut, Laxman came up with an innings against the fiercest bowling attack of that time, which not only stopped Australia from winning a series in India but sent out hope that there were other batsmen in the team besides Sachin, Sourav and Dravid.
 
He showed he could play on the off side as well as anybody, but none could match his prowess on the leg. Whipping Shane Warne to the mid-wicket boundary against the spin was something Laxman did as easily as A.R. Rehman comes up with songs. Just as one would expect Rehman to produce a few flops, Warne kept envisioning a leading edge, a stumping or a bowled every time he spun the ball from leg stump. But the ball kept meeting the middle of Laxman’s bat. It took Warne 35 overs and 152 runs to realize, that ploy was not going to work. Bowlers world over came to know that Laxman’s pads were the grass in front of the White House – stay off.
 
Dravid was often his partner in crime, be it in the slips or while batting. They both shared some wonderful partnerships over the years. Even though Dravid was the one who came in at the position Laxman wanted, no. three, there was no visible animosity between them. They understood each other’s game well and complemented each other quite beautifully. Even in the slips, standing at first and second, they both chatted, bent down low and pouched catches more often than not. Laxman wasn’t the most athletic, but he got the job done. He wasn’t the most powerful either, but when it came to scoring quick runs with the tail…he got the job done.
 
However, in some of the recent games his reflexes had begun to slow down. Safe hands had begun to drop a few. Running had slowed down further and his strength had become his weakness. Chipping the ball in the air, getting trapped LBW and sometimes missing the ball entirely were some of his dismissals as he attempted to flick the ball. The tour of England and Australia only gave the calls for his head a megaphone. A simple and quiet guy that Laxman was, these cries would have definitely hurt his ears. But the voice that guided him was his own. The nice guy sitting in his conscience politely requested him to retire. He was never one to say no. And just like that, one of the most poetic chapters in Indian cricket was complete.
 
In George Bernard Shaw’s words, “Forget about likes and dislikes. They are of no consequence. Just do what must be done. This may not be happiness but it is greatness.” Laxman walks off as an Indian great. Lazy, wristy, elegant, poor runner, good slip catcher, 281 – the list of adjectives is long, but not as long as the time his name will live…..partly because of the length of his name, but mostly because while an average above the best is ‘Bradmenesque’, a flick from outside off to a leg-spinner is always ‘Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxmanesque.’
 


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