Sachin Tendulkar’s two captaincy stints for India are not laced with great success. But he’ll never forget VVS Laxman’s 167 at Sydney in the final innings of that ill-fated Test series which ended 3-0 in Australia’s favour.
He will also remember Laxman’s valuable half century on debut against an Allan Donald-led pace attack in Ahmedabad 1996 which in a way helped Tendulkar win his second Test as captain.
Laxman put a full stop to his international career with immediate effect on Saturday, probably leaving the selectors flushed with embarrassment since they already picked him in the squad for the August 23-27 opening Test against New Zealand in Hyderabad.
SUNDAY MiD DAY caught up with Laxman’s first Test captain to talk about the retiring hero and the grand manner in which he played the game.
When did you first hear about VVS Laxman?
I heard about him from Amol Muzumdar since they were teammates (at the junior level) before meeting him for the first time in 1996. We were in England when he accompanied Amol, who came to visit me during the tour.
What did you feel when you first saw him play?
I thought he was really fantastic. I remember when I was his captain on the 1996-97 tour of South Africa, he got hit and broke his finger in Johannesburg. He was crying in one corner of the dressing room. I went up to him and said, ‘don’t worry. This is just the beginning and you have a long way to go.’ Now, I am really happy with whatever he has been able to achieve and his contribution has been immense. He has inspired a lot of youngsters and he’s played some unbelievable knocks — very important ones. He has also been a terrific fielder in slips; really good catcher and yes, that has probably gone a bit unnoticed. He has been a terrific catcher, he’s got beautiful hands.
Your best VVS Laxman moment?
It has to be the 281 (against Australia at Kolkata in 2001) although he played some unbelievable knocks around that period. But 281 has to be on top of the list.
In Sydney (2000) when things were going so bad for you, he went out and scored 167 in the Test match. How did you feel as captain?
If we have to go into statistics of that series… we played three Tests and you would expect the top seven guys to contribute in 7x 6= 42 innings. In 42 innings, Sourav Ganguly scored a fifty, Laxman got a hundred and I got two fifties and a hundred. Other than that, not one scored runs. Out of 42 innings, if you are going to have only five to six 50 plus scores, you are bound to have a disastrous tour. Laxman really played well in Sydney, hit some terrific shots and that is why I requested the BCCI and the selection committee to keep him for the one-day triangular series.
A lot of people remember Dilip Vengsarkar’s three consecutive hundreds at Lord’s. But Laxman did the same at a famous venue too — the Sydney Cricket Ground with his hundreds in 2000, 2004 and 2008…
Absolutely awesome! It is an equally big achievement because those hundreds came against top opposition as well.
If God gave you a choice and offered you VVS Laxman’s skills, which one would you pick?
That ability to use his wrists so well while batting. Many a time… 99 per cent batters would play a ball to the covers and the same ball Laxman would end up playing an on-drive. And it’s not decided…it’s just God’s gift — his natural talent and ability to find gaps and use his wrists. I am sure he has not specially worked on it. It is a gift from God and he has looked after it pretty well.
Your view on his decision to quit?
It’s HIS decision. He knows his body and mental frame of mind. Only he can talk about his mental make-up. You can judge physical preparation; a physio can tell you what things are not right and whether one is in good shape, but if you have to judge from the mental side, he’s the only person who can answer you.