A True Tribute to V V S Laxman
Chennai: Not Sachin Tendulkar. Not Rahul Dravid. Not Virender Sehwag. It’s V V S Laxman who has to be the cricketer for all occasions.
I just can’t see any Indian journalist disagreeing to this view.
For, no matter what the situation was, Laxman unfailingly lent himself to what any discerning journalist would look for: Punny clichés to fit in newspaper headlines.
If Laxman had played a match-winning hand, the go-to line was always the Very Very Special/Very Very Special (Rava Masala) variation.
If he had had a bad outing, the obvious one riff was on the ‘lax man’ thing.
If he were involved in a run out, not-crossing-the-Laxman-rekha theme was inevitably flogged.
And, of course, around World Cup time, the selectors saw him and just went: ‘axe, man’.
Make no mistake about it, with a name like Laxman it was easy to Ram home epic puns.
Considering all this, S Raina or S Badrinath, whoever replaces him in the Indian team, has a tough act to follow. Not just in the middle order but, more importantly, in newspaper rubrics. On first glance, both seem to start with a huge handicap: They are already two Vs short.
Getting to the actual game, there is no more exciting and energising sight on a cricket field than seeing Laxman handle short-pitched pace bowling. He usually rocked back and pulled the speedy bouncers in front of the ‘square’, which is remarkable when you consider the fact that a cricket ground is generally oval or circular. (New Zealand grounds are exceptions to this: They are semi-circular and octagonal simultaneously).
Against spin, Laxman, mostly used his height to step down the track to quickly smother the turn off the wicket. This is a brilliant strategy. But the point is not all tall players are capable of pulling this off. For instance, Ivo Karlovic, despite standing at a vertigo-inducing 6 ft 10 inch, does not have even a single century to his credit. Don’t tell me that he is a tennis player. So what? Laxman, too, has not won any Grand Slam title, but that has not stopped him from scoring runs against top-class opposition.
The writer Peter Roebuck once pointed out that the greatness about Laxman’s batting was that he has a lot of time to play his shots. The implicit cricketing message in this pithy line was: Laxman has a lot of time to play his shots, because he doesn’t waste it, I don’t know, perhaps partying.
Personally speaking, the first time I ran into Laxman was at a private net session at the India Pistons ground in Chennai in late 90s. He was already an international player then, but Laxman had come there to iron out some chinks in his batting technique under the guidance of the late T E Srinivasan, who, it should be said here, owns the world record “for the highest number of ‘urban legends’ by a guy with just one Test under his belt’.
Anyway, as I watched from a distance, the two were animatedly in discussion, and going by their body language and action, it centred on grip, head positioning and other batting technicalities. It was a longish session, and as a curious reporter with a keen sense to fill the readers with totally irrelevant information, I wanted to know what exactly transpired between the two.
After the session was over, I, with my notebook and pen, nervously walked up to Laxman, and asked him what he specifically discussed with T E Srinivasan. Did he seek redressal to his sometimes lack of footwork? Or was he working on that aspect of his batting technique that had seen him get bowled on more than a few occasions? Or perhaps was it about his running between the wickets, which, on occasions, made slow motion replays seem like static pictures?
I had thousand queries, or so it seemed. And Laxman could have just ignored all of them and walked off. But he, an established international cricketer, listened patiently while I rattled on and on and on. And at the end of it all, Laxman gave me such a measured answer that I remember it verbatim even today. And his precise reply was: ‘No comments’.
Needless to say, my headline for that report next day was: Laxman, Very Very Silent.
(Disclaimer: Since this piece is a tribute to Laxman, the man who helped launch thousands of headlines, we thought the apt tribute to mark his retirement would be to have no headline, which as a gesture in a news feature is, well, very very special.)
(Disclaimer 2: If Laxman is chosen to the Rajya Sabha now, the Upper House can indeed boast of Laxman, Rekha. With that we draw the line on puns here.)