Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Tribute to an Unsung Hero

My blog would be incomplete without having a post about cricket.In fact,I have been myself surprised on how I could resist myself on writing about cricket for so long.My favourite cricketers are Sachin 'THE GOD' Tendulkar(but obvious),Rahul 'THE WALL' Dravid,Shane 'THE WIZARD' Warne and VVS Laxman.

To write about the God himself would be blasphemous.I would pay a tribute to the most unsung Indian cricketer-VVS Laxman.I consider myself lucky to have seen the Fab 4 bat for India.Of course,Sachin is Sachin.People talk about Dravid being the Wall of the Indian team-calm,resolute in defence,always at the front.People talk about Ganguly the leader,the one who taught Indians to take on the world,to battle hard and match eyeball for eyeball and sledge for sledge.But behind all of this was one man who was there when it mattered.The unsung hero,one of the most under-rated cricketers,someone who has not been given the respect and support he has deserved.He might also be remembered as the perennial underachiever of Indian cricket who never did justice to his immense potential.

The first time I remember seeing VVS bat as against Pakistan way back in 1998 I think.All I remember of him back then was a wristy flick for 4,and being castled by Wasim Akram the very next ball.I started liking VVS from the innings he played at Sydney against Australia in 2000 when he scored a memorable century with India following on.The result of the match was a foregone conclusion,but the way he batted was a treat to the eyes.Among my heroes,I think my batting resembles Laxman's the most(or so I think).

And then one hot afternoon at Eden Gardens in Kolkata in March 2001,things looked all too familiar for the Indian team-being thumped by the Aussies once more.Not even the most optimistic Indian fan would have thought that Australia would lose.But,VVS in company of Dravid went on to prove them wrong.India had been on the brink of an innings defeat but went on to win the Test and the series, denying Steve Waugh conquest of the "final frontier". It has become one of the most celebrated tales of Indian cricket, and the innings is ranked the sixth best Test innings ever by Wisden Cricketers' Almanack.VVS did not only score 281 runs in that innings,he hurt the Aussie pride and arrogance and in doing so walked to greatness.

At his sublime best, VVS Laxman is a sight for the gods. Wristy, willowy and sinuous like his statemate Azharuddin, he can match - sometimes even better - Tendulkar for strokeplay.A ball 13 cm outside the off stump can be dismissed through the covers to the boundary,and the same ball can be flicked through midwicket.Shane Warne bowling round the wicket was flicked against the turn for 4,and driven inside out through the covers too.This is VVS at his best.He might score only 20 runs in an innings,but those 20 runs are worth watching.I would pay money to see him bat for those 30 minutes than watch someone else toil around for a century.

The best tribute to Laxman can be that the Australians respect him very much. He reserved his best against the best.This is one man feared by the entire champion Australian team.He defied them not just once or twice,but virtually every time he went out to bat against them.'Very Very Special' is what they named him.The sight of McGrath mouthing off at Laxman was not a mean fast bowler's idea of intimidation; it was an agitated soul sledging a statue.

In a team full of forceful personalities with no shortage of alpha males, the Hyderabadi is an ephemeral presence. His No. 6 spot in the batting line-up is often mulled over and there are grumblings from the youth-first brigade about his knees, his fielding and his running between wickets. But to his team, this old-fashioned, unprepossessing, deeply devout man is what they want.Laxman's walk to the crease is calm,but all purposeful. Once there, he combines a stillness of demeanour with a bustle of run-seeking.He can stabilize an innings,which he does most of the times in company of the tail.No one,I repeat,no one can fight with the tail without losing hope in the most hopeless situations.In times of dire need,there is a sense of relief when he comes in to bat;a feeling that the damage will stop,even if it is to delay the eventual.And on some lucky days when the top order fires,he can add salt into the injuries already inflicted on the bowling side.However,he does that like a silent,expert surgeon and not like a brutal murderer.He stands at second slip, virtually invisible, except when a catch goes his way which is pouched on most occasions.

Over all these years he has played,VVS has never been involved in any controversy.He has been the saint of Indian cricket-humble,learned,respected,committed,saviour and performer of miracles.All hail St.Laxman!