In a Test career that spanned 134 Tests, VVS Laxman shared 73 partnerships with Sachin Tendulkar. They scored 3,523 runs together at an average of 51 with nine 100-plus stands. Their 353-run stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2004 is the sixth highest fourth-wicket stand in Tests. But for Laxman, his ties with Tendulkar transcend the time spent at the crease.
For Laxman, it was Tendulkar’s “childlike behaviour” within closed doors and his peerless love for the sport that defined him.
The Hyderabadi batting great spoke to HT after his friend made public his intention to quit Test cricket. Excerpts from an interview:
Will the Indian dressing room ever be the same again?
It is going to be different. No doubt about that. For all cricket lovers world over, they have to get used to life without Sachin. For 24 years, he has entertained cricket lovers around the world. What I admire the most is his longevity and the sort of love he has for the game. Nobody has his passion and nobody takes as much pride to play for the country. He is truly irreplaceable.
You share a close friendship with Sachin.
I first met Sachin in 1994 when we were playing the Wills Trophy. I was playing for Hyderabad, he was playing for the Wills XI. I had a really good U-19 series against Australia and England.
When I first met him, he congratulated me on my performances. I was really surprised. I felt very encouraged that he was actually following a U-19 series so closely. We use to idolise him by then because he had already played for India for close to five years.
Since then, whenever I’ve interacted with him, he’s been a warm person. Even as my first Test captain, he was very welcoming. I used to look at each and every movement of his. I used to study his body language. I always looked up to him.
He had the special quality of going to every youngster and making him feel comfortable. That quality has never changed. Since then, we have become very close. When you play with someone for 16 years, you share some memorable moments. I will always cherish those.
Even great athletes lose inspiration after a while. What made him tick for 24 years?
Everyone knows what a fabulous cricketer he was, the records speak for themselves. But what stands out as far as Sachin is concerned is the person. And because he was such a nice person, he could battle through any problem. He is a true inspiration, a role model for youngsters in any walk of life.
He’s the perfect example of how to conduct yourself, especially when you have achieved so much, and people love you. You can easily get carried away. The way he has carried himself is the real Tendulkar experience - for me or anyone else who has known him closely.
On that crumbling pitch in Mumbai, in 2004 against Australia, you shared a 91-run stand in the second innings. Though you put together 353 the earlier year at Sydney, you had something special during that stand. And India won…
When you’re in the middle, or when you’re out in the nets, you always learn a lot. But when you have Sachin to work with, you only learn more.
The thing with him is the preparation, the emphasis he puts on his game. During that stand, or any other stand, I learned cricket and much more from him. Even until the last tour in Australia, though neither of us scored big runs, Sachin’s methods never changed.
He still gave as much emphasis on preparation. His greatest asset is that he never takes cricket for granted. He values the game like no other. Whether you are a senior player or junior, just watch him in the nets and you will learn. I have benefitted so much by that. It’s a shame that youngsters won’t have that privilege.
You saw Sachin’s evolution as a player. After the 2009 series win in New Zealand, he said it was the happiest dressing room he was a part of. And you too enjoyed a lot of success around that time….
At that time, we really enjoyed playing together. We became the No 1 Test team. And also, I was very lucky to play in an era when a lot of cricketers took a lot of pride playing for their country. Unlike these days, there’s no need of extra motivation to play for your country. That was a great quality we shared. We became a world class team You need players who are self-driven.
The best part about that time (2009 onwards) was Gary Kirsten as coach. Ever since Anil Kumble took over and later Dhoni, the team environment was really good, it was relaxed. And that’s why we enjoyed that period so much. It’s good to play cricket with a free mind.
What doesn’t the world know of the man?
While Sachin for the outside world is an introvert, he doesn’t come across as such a person. To his friends, there is hardly anyone with a better sense of humour. He plays so many pranks. He has this childlike attitude, he has played like a child till the end. Each and every moment on a cricket field is fun for him. Whenever we won, he was the first guy to celebrate.
He’ll pick the team up. If we are in the changing room because of a rain delay, he’d be the first guy to start tennis ball cricket. We’ve had so much fun indoors.
Unfortunately, the minute he walks out of that door, he has no privacy and the world can’t always see the real Sachin. He is the most fun teammate anyone can ever have.