VVS Laxman returned home to Hyderabad last week from England, where he had a productive tour. First, he contributed in India’s famous Test series triumph. Coming in at crucial junctures, he registered an impressive average of 51.25 in five innings.
Then he extended his stay, playing for Lancashire as their overseas professional for five weeks. He nearly took the club to their first Championship title in more than seven decades. The 33-year-old is deservedly happy about his cricket.
Excerpts from an exclusive telephonic chat with Laxman soon after his return from England.
How was the experience of winning the Test series in England?
It is always a great feeling when we win Tests overseas. Since the West Indies tour in 2002, we have started winning Tests abroad but not a series. To be able to do that in the West Indies (2006) and England (2007) was great. And to be personally contributing to the victory in England was memorable. Winning in England gave extra satisfaction because we won against a very good side.
Why did the England win give you extra satisfaction?
It was a classic case of team effort. (MS) Dhoni at Lord’s played an uncharacteristic knock, not typical of him; Zaheer (Khan) with the ball at Nottingham; also Anil Kumble’s hundred at The Oval… it was a great effort.
The major factor for me was the opening partnerships we had. Dinesh (Karthik) and Wasim (Jaffer) laid a solid foundation. Whenever we did well overseas, the opening partnerships have been good.
Kumble is out there with his camera whenever someone reaches a milestone. When he reached to his first Test century, did anyone capture the moment for him?
All of us were so excited that none of us took out a camera. We were clapping for him from the balcony. There have been a lot of occasions when he has fought till the end. We have had good partnerships and during that knock, we were cheering each shot of his.
Rahul Dravid stepped down from captaincy upon returning from England. Was there any indication to that effect during the tour?
I was in Manchester playing for Lancashire when I heard the news. There was no indication at all. When he gave up the captaincy, I was surprised. He was leading the side well. It was a great team environment in England. Right from Chandu Borde sir to all the support staff, we enjoyed each other’s success.
India seem to be doing well without a coach — winning the Test series in Bangladesh and England and the World T20. What is your view on this?
I don’t agree that there was no coach. Borde sir was like the head coach in England, though his designation was cricket manager. Venkatesh Prasad and Robin Singh were the bowling and fielding coaches. And all the senior players contributed to the team at meetings and on the field.
Were you able to follow India’s exploits in the World T20?
It was a brilliant performance. I was watching them on TV in England. Was really excited with the way the boys played.
What do you make of Dhoni’s captaincy?
Whatever I’ve seen of him comes as no surprise. He comes across as a mature guy, is aggressive and also very balanced. You have to control your emotions. Dhoni has always been an intelligent student of the game. Even as a wicket-keeper, before taking over as captain, he has given his inputs at team meetings. That shows in his captaincy. He has got great leadership qualities. To me, his balance and positive nature are qualities that stand out from the captaincy viewpoint.
Have you given up hope in one-day cricket?
Till you play active cricket, you hope to play both forms of the game. I still believe that I can do well in one-day cricket for India.
How was the experience of playing for Lancashire towards the end of the season?
It was great. I was playing county cricket for the first time. I was there for five weeks and to be playing day in and day out and travelling, it was a good learning experience. I was quite happy with the scoring rate in one-dayers ( 92.52). Also the way I was rotating the strike, I was happy with my one-day performance (three matches, 161 runs, 80.50 average, two half-centuries, 85 not out highest).
I also had a good outing in the four-day Championship (5 matches, 8 innings, 380 runs, 103 highest, 54.28 average, two hundreds, two fifties). What happens when you are playing only Test cricket is there is a long break between series. Playing county cricket, it gave me an opportunity to play active, good quality cricket, where people fight to win the Championship.
I was getting scores in different situations, different conditions. Even though it was only five weeks, I enjoyed the opportunity given to me.
Have you already decided to play for Lancashire the next season?
No. Brad Hodge (of Australia) had signed for Lancashire for next year even before I played. (Only one overseas player will be allowed from next year).
You scored 100 in 100 balls in Lancashire’s last innings of the Championship against Surrey. Your team came within 24 runs of winning the title after 73 years…
We were leading the points table till then. Sussex and Durham had won their matches and were awaiting our result. If we won outright, the Championship was ours. It would have been the first title for Lancashire in 73 years. I told the team that I would like to play at number three in the second innings. I laid the foundation with a 100-ball 100 as we were chasing 489 in 100-odd overs. It would have been great had we won.
Have you begun preparations for the coming season, first up is the Test series against Pakistan?
I started practicing from Monday with the Hyderabad Ranji team. I am looking forward to playing two Ranji games (Nov 3-6 vs Bengal and Nov 15-18 against Punjab) before the Test series against Pakistan on November 22.
You were in England when eight of Hyderabad’s core players left to join the ICL. How did you react to it?
It is their individual decision. At the same time, it gives youngsters an opportunity. It will be a different experience for me to handle a new unit. But Hyderabad has a lot of good youngsters. It is disappointing to lose them from the Hyderabad Cricket Association’s (HCA) point of view as they all have been an integral part of the Hyderabad team in recent times.