Much like his batting – when he often played the ball so late – Laxman made the momentous announcement about his retirement so late that the test series for which he had been selected had almost started.
He was in the team for the home series against New Zealand and would have surely walked in at his customary position in the middle order. But, the graceful Hyderabadi chose to make his exit from the international arena without padding up.
A poor tour of England and an even more disastrous one to Australia would have definitely prompted V.V.S. Laxman to call it quits, following in the footsteps of his friend and compatriot in many a battle in the middle – Rahul Dravid.
Delectable, graceful, wristy, dependable, elegant… all these and more describe Laxman’s batting. Quite rightly so. But more than all these, there was a certain élan attached to Laxman’s batting – so classic was it that purists would go into raptures over his wristy flicks or drives, his timing and what not.
Like his friend and another legend from South India – Rahul Dravid – Laxman formed the bulwark of a strong Indian batting line up. That a line-up that boasted of Sehwag, Gambhir, Dravid, Tendulkar and Laxman did not win more matches abroad is an eternal mystery.
There are many shots that Laxman excelled in. In his stroke play he resembled another master batsman – G.R. Vishwanath. There was another similarity between the two – both scored when the team needed runs badly. Where Laxman was tall, Vishwanath was short – one of the two “little masters” of the Indian cricket team of the 1970s and 1980s.
While Vishwanath was a great starter of his innings, Laxman would often appear wooden and uncertain, vulnerable to every ball bowled at him, which he would play awkwardly in the initial overs. Once he settled down, the footwork would become fluid and the wrists would start wielding their magic.
The ball would appear to gather speed as it raced to the boundary. It was more timing than power; the bat a mere wand to send the ball into the gaps.
His footwork against the spinners was exemplary. Laxman would delight in flicking or driving balls marginally outside the off stump on to the leg side. Steve Waugh had placed a fielder at short mid-on and another fielder at the traditional mid-on position, as Shane Warne bowled round the wicket to Laxman.
Most batsmen would have been content to pad up or simply defend the spinning ball from the Australian craftsmen. Not Laxman. He managed to pick the gap between the two mid-on fielders and send it to the fence. Steve Waugh could only put his hands on his head while Warne looked bemused. That was Laxman.
He was in and out of the Indian team more times than you could count. He never gave up till he became a permanent fixture in the famed middle order. How many times has he batted with the rather long tail, nudging the ball into the gaps for singles, reposing so much confidence in the tail-enders that you often wondered whether Laxman had lost it. He was calm, composed and he was Laxman. Simply that.
He had more shortcomings than you could possible count. But he made up for all that with his bat and his behaviour on and off the field.