August 21, 2012 3:34:28 am
Transcending team allegiances,VVS commands an eclectic fan club
V.V.S. Laxman played just one Test in Hyderabad but he never really missed the overindulgent adulation that comes with the home turf. Thats because for over a decade,the cricketing world,justifiably,pampered him silly. Across continents,his runs were never regretted,his strokes never went unappreciated and ovations to his innings were never half-hearted. When it came to the genial man with grace,nationality never mattered his or the fielding sides. For anybody who has ever attempted the complex task of perfectly connecting a bat to the unpredictable path of the ball,the effortlessness of Laxmans batting was both jaw-dropping and uplifting.
In that golden generation of Indian batsmen,rather unimaginatively labelled the Fab Four,Laxman was often referred to as the quiet one. But those who saw a George Harrison in Laxman did not know their music or their cricket. The crudest myth,or the laziest verdict,about Laxman is that he remained unsung,hidden in the lengthy shadows of the towering batsmen whom he followed. Yes,he did miss out on big centuries as he mostly ended up batting with tail-enders,but no preceding ton by any super star had the weight to deflate a Laxman special or even outshine any of his sparkling strokes.
The uniqueness of Laxmans fame is its quiet,but overwhelming,seamlessness. His supporters arent the banner-wielding,painted-body type. They dont need to be. Most times,when the freshly greased wrists were at work,the entire stadium,regardless of the allegiance,nodded collectively in disbelief. NRI fans never had to shout out loud to make a point about Laxmans greatness in their adopted lands. It was a given,a non-issue that never cropped in any us vs them debates. Avid Laxman-watchers,those who have travelled far and wide to follow the 16-year journey,vouch that they havent met anyone who happens to be a Laxman-baiter. Not even Sachin Tendulkar has such global consensus.
Besides,the Laxman fan club is an eclectic mix,a collection of unusual men. Last year,during the England tour,India played a game at Taunton. After a relaxed day on the field,to Laxmans found he had an interesting visitor waiting for him at the team hotel. The best-selling writer Jeffrey Archer had travelled miles to meet someone whose career he had ardently followed. Far away in Australia,English Premier League footballer and local super star Mark Viduka turned up at the nets one day to chat up the man they love to call VVS. After his 167 in Sydney in 1999,the then Australian prime minister and a certified cricket crazy,John Howard,walked up to Laxman to say,You made my day.
Another time in New Zealand,a couple of Indian journalists tried to get the All-Black rugby star,Brad Thorn,to comment on cricketers earnings not being quite proportional to their athleticism or the time spent training. I used to think that way till I tried batting like Laxman against a bowling machine, said the huge man.
From the heavyweights to the spindly drunk outside a Jamaican bar who would never tire of singing a self-composed jingle to advertise the Indian star: We We Ace,Laxmaan; what a maan. When sung with a bit of calypso,the jingle stayed in the head for life. Those who say Laxman was unsung should have heard this one.
The respect Laxman commands in his profession makes him much more than a cricketer whose timing they applauded in all time zones. In a dressing room of unending intrigue,Laxmans was the sane,unaligned and strong voice. He was beyond cliques and camps. He could joke with both Dhoni and Sehwag yes,simultaneously. He was among the few who could take liberties with Zaheer Khan,the pace spearhead with an attitude. And Laxman remained Laxman even when he moved to Rohit Sharma after a chat with Tendulkar and Dravid.
Laxmans Hyderabadi style of acknowledging a moment of fun at net sessions with a clap that would start from above the shoulder and end with an extended follow through after landing on a team mates palm,had an echo that defused many tense situations. Never part of any power equation or captaincy struggle,Laxman had his personal pursuits. Last year,when the hoodies looted Birminghams high street during Indias cricket tour,the team manager sent an emergency SMS to all the cricketers,who were out shopping. Laxman was safe; he was at a temple in the citys outskirts. A deeply religious person,Laxman would spend most evenings away from the spirited gossip sessions. Magical on the field and spiritual off it,Laxman was always dignified during his time in India whites.
Statistically,Laxman will always be fourth or even fifth in a misleading,figure-heavy ranking of Indian batsmen from the 1990s and 2000s. But there is a lesson for all in the way Laxman dealt with his position in the team. In a highly competitive world,laced with insecurities and subterfuge,Laxman was at peace with himself and the hierarchy. He went about doing his things in his own way. His fame and legacy shows that there are pedestals beyond the podium too. Its not always about finishing first.
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