My first introduction to VVS Laxman was way back in 1997 in Dhaka. He was a newcomer to the India team and warming the bench in a tense, racy final of the Independence Cup one-day tournament. Sitting on the edge of the boundary line, with a gold chain shimmering around his neck, he was taunting and teasing one of his teammates for displaying bouts of nervousness each time India would falter in its run chase. The self-assurance of a man yet to make a mark for himself was as impressive as his no-care-for-the-world attitude.
He was to underline these qualities, particularly his self-belief and being a no-nonsense man, when he decided that he would not open the innings for India, even if it was at the cost of his place in the team. His was a struggle to cement his place in the side and despite all the elegance, grace and silken touch that his steely wrists would conjure up, it was his epoch innings of 281 in that famous Eden Test in 2001, five years after he made his Test debut, that turned around not only his fortunes but that of India and Ganguly as well.
Easy and effortless
Laxman's cricket revolved around that gift of timing that all great sportsmen are blessed with. This strokeful wonder would not even twitch a muscle, nor move his feet, yet the ball would race to the boundary line, such was the power of his supple wrists. If ever there was a batsman who gave you the illusion that he has played a drive with a cross-bat, it was him. An impossibility that only a rare talent can achieve and Laxman was nothing if not a talent as rare as you can get.
Over the years, he has regaled and delighted the world with strokes of beauty and charm, and what places him way ahead of many of his peers and past greats was his ability to withstand pressure and be counted when it mattered the most. His record in the second innings, especially when India were faltering, is a testimony to his possessing nerves of steel and not just the strong wrists we talk about all the time.
A strong-willed man behind the exterior of an extremely well-behaved person, Laxman has played the game on his own terms. When he was dropped from the 2003 World Cup squad, he got so incensed that he did not talk to the then coach of the team John Wright for almost a year, despite sharing the same dressing room. He was one of those few individuals who stood up to Greg Chappell's whimsical ways and suffered for it.
Laxman to the outside world may have been a man of few words who would stoically suffer the pinpricks of the world, but deep inside he would not tolerate any perceived or real injustice done to him. It is obvious that his surprising decision to quit just days before he was supposed to play on his home ground in what could have been his farewell Test, has more to do with a sense of hurt than any planned future strategy. If that had been the case, the retirement would have come and even should have come immediately after the tour of Australia and not now, after being part of the team selected to play against New Zealand.
Just the realisation that he is not wanted in the team may have hit him hard. He may not have spoken a single word in his press conference that could betray the real reason and the immediate catalyst behind such a sudden rebuff to the India team, but a sportsman does not quit centrestage like this, specially if he happens to be someone blessed with divine timing.