Very recently I was watching South Africa play Pakistan on TV and in the course of that I also saw Graeme Smith cross nine thousand runs in test cricket. That is a commendable achievement in every sense of the word, and for people who view cricket as the game which is the biggest aggregator of statistics, it was even more gratifying. However, that particular moment, the first thing that struck me was the unfairness of it all. Graeme Smith is a very effective batsman, yes, but he bats in a very unwieldy, inelegant fashion, as though his right arm has no elbow. For the neutral viewer, he brings no joy, there is a certain lack of “art” which is glaring.
Simultaneously, I was also reminded of the fact that VVS Laxman never managed to score nine thousand runs in test cricket, he managed “only” 8781 runs in fact. However, they will have to be the most soothing, beautiful brush strokes of 8781 runs ever.
In full flight, there was no one, and dare I say, not even Tendulkar who could match the majesty of his strokeplay. You only have to watch his batting with the two best Indian batsmen of his generation, Tendulkar and Dravid, in that 2003-04 tour to Australia to understand what I am talking about. Rahul Dravid made a double century in Adelaide, but all you want to watch is Laxman flicking the ball to the fence. The Tendulkar double century in Sydney is supposed to be one his best innings ever, but that comes across as genuinely uninteresting in front of VVS’s 178.
His game was quite similar to his idol Mohammad Azharuddin, yes, but where Azhar at times injected power into his shots, VVS never did that and he was also decidedly stronger on the offside. He caressed the ball, almost requesting it to cooperate with him, and so it did. The genius did not lie in playing all the shots in the book, it lay in playing them beautifully every single time. Disdain is not a word that you could ever associate with his shots because it always seemed that he was too polite with the bat in his hand. It had to be love, nothing else in the world can produce magic of such enthralling levels so effortlessly and he used to this to slice the Australians to pieces.
VVS Laxman came up against the Australians at their dominant best and forced them to concede that they didn’t know how to bowl at him. He sometimes reminded me of the bald monk out of the Hong Kong kung fu movies, the one who handled all the ruffians and goons with a Buddha-like serenity on his face. We had Warne, McGrath, Gillespie, Lee and some more running in like the wind and bowling with all their might and will, and here he was handling them with almost poetic ease. Bill Lawry once said on commentary that he had seen some very good timers of the cricket ball, like Lara, Ponting, Gower …but none better than VVS Laxman. As is known to everyone who has watched cricket, the greatest innings played by an Indian was the 281 by Laxman in Kolkata in 2001, the one which single-handedly propelled Indian cricket forward.
When I try and think of other sportsmen who have had the same effect on me as a spectator, the only person that comes to my mind is Ronaldinho. There have been many players who have scored more goals, have played more matches, so on and so forth, but those 3 magical years in Barcelona in the middle of the previous decade will be very, very difficult to forget. That is the beauty of players of such ilk, the ability to transcend the trappings of statistics, the ability to provide such unforgettable moments of joy that the level of the game itself rises.
I end my post with the video of a Laxman century from Sydney. I have seen this one countless times and it has never failed to cheer me up. I just hope that our future generations get to see these because there will never be another like him.