Saturday night was a dark night in my home. Couldn’t get to the Collingwood v North Melbourne game due to work commitments. So watched my pies lose on TV in an ordinary effort. Don’t want to talk about it. Recorded the Wallabies Test against the All Blacks at the same time and watched it afterwards. Same result, although the Wallabies played better than Collingwood. Even with Kurtley Beale having a similar night to Cloke and Dawes.
But then the sad news came through that Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman had retired from international cricket. Better known to cricket followers as VVS Laxman. Or Very Very Special to Indian fans. He was my favourite non-Australian batsman in my 25 odd years of cricket watching.
Laxman made his test debut in 1996 vs South Africa at Ahmedabad, making a crucial 51 in India’s second innings to help set up a win by the home team in a low scoring game. But he was dropped after not doing much else in his first dozen or so Tests. A record breaking 1415 runs in the 1999/2000 Ranji Trophy (India’s equivalent of the Sheffield Shield) saw Laxman return to the team for the tour of Australia that season. It was the first time I would have the opportunity to see VVS bat. He made 41 & 0 in the 1st Test at the Adalaide Oval and just 5 and 1 in the 2nd Test at the MCG.
Maybe his career would have been over after that but an injury to regular opener Sadagoppan Ramesh saw Laxman put in to open in the 3rd Test at the SCG. He made just 7 in the 1st innings, but probably knowing it was his last chance came out blazing in the 2nd innings to make a glorious 167 off just 198 balls playing orthodox strokes with immaculate timing. It was batting at its best.
The next Test series was once again against Australia but this time in India. This series, the 2001 Border/Gavaskar trophy was the first series I saw on my newly installed pay TV and I still rate it up there with the 2005 Ashes as the best Test match series I’ve seen. After making just 20 & 12 in the 1st test in Australia’s win at Mumbai, Laxman top scored with 59 out of 171 in India’s first innings in the 2nd Test at Kolkata. India followed on after Australia’s first innings of 445 and Laxman was the star, batting through a full day’s play with Rahul Dravid in an eventual partnership of 376. Laxman broke Sunil Gavaskar’s then Indian record of 236 in a mesmerising innings where he played legends Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath at will.
He saved his best for Australia. Which was a huge effort in the Warne/McGrath/Gillespie/Lee/MacGill/Fleming/Kasprowicz era. His dominance of Australian teams reached it’s zenith in the 2003/04 Australian season. Test match tons in Adelaide and Sydney as well as centuries against Australia in the one-day series at the Gabba and SCG and his highest ODI score of 131 v Zimbabwe at the Adelaide Oval. He continued to be a reliable Test player for the next 8 years but was dropped from the ODI team in 2006. And now at 37 years of age he has pulled the pin after lean tours of Australia and England.
But what a career. 134 test matches, 8781 runs at an average of 45.95. 17 glorious Test centuries as well as 56 half centuries. 135 catches, many at second slip. And 2 Test wickets. 86 One Day Internationas for his country including 6 tons. Surely the best cricketer to emerge from the city of Hyderabad. Given his dominance of Australian teams it’s fitting his last Test match was at the Adelaide Oval last January. Statistically VVS Laxman was far from the best batsmen of his era. Tendulkar, Lara, Ponting, Kallis, Chanderpaul and Cook are more prolific. Gilchrist, Hayden, Jayasuriya, Gayle and Pieterson more destructive. But only Mark Waugh in the last 25 years has batted with as much style as VVS Laxman. And M.Waugh was nowhere near as wristy. India and the cricketing public will miss him.
The great man intends to play on for Hyderabad, with an end of the Uppal Stadium being named after him. At his peak I could watch him bat all day every day. Long may he continue. Very Very Special.