In the end, it was Dravid who walked out with a sure face. His defenses failed him for one single tour, a tour that saw even Australia’s greatest tormentor get tamed, and Dravid knew it was time. From his sudden decision of immediate retirement, it was evident that he did not care for sentiments, and had no intention to wait seven months for a farewell test. It was also evident that the name always associated with him throughout his test career, his most prolific partner, would have to go too.
What is my husband, if not an artist anymore?
As brutal as it sounds, VVS Laxman’s time had come as soon as he finished his Australian tour with 120-odd runs. Maybe it was appropriate- only a failure against a weakening Australian team, a far cry from the days of McGrath and Warne, would be a sureshot sign of having to leave. His double failure at Sydney, if you look at it poetically, was the last straw- and it was a full circle from the day he played to save his career back in 1999- a sublime 167 in an absolutely lost cause that set purist hearts racing across the globe.
But only later on would India realize that the loss was one of the most important in their Test history. It gave rise to a player who rose from darkness, on the verge of being scrapped permanently, with a sort of mental strength against a ruthless Aussie team that defied Indian convention.
VVS Laxman then became a name often mentioned in the bracket of talents like Mark Waugh and Inzamam Ul Haq. He was India’s very own Roger Federer- an artist blessed not only with a ridiculous repertoire of strokes, but with an invisible undying grit that history would acknowledge soon. When he walked out to bat, he’d take long, lazy strides that made him look more like a hustler-scholar who had somehow made his way into a cricket team. At that point of time, VVS Laxman was still close the only Test-specialist batsman that we had. He was never given an extended run in ODI cricket, thanks to his allergy to areal play and lack of willingness to dive in the field- but in Whites, whenever he strode to the crease, the world would wonder how precious he must actually be, to merit a place in the greatest batting lineup in Test Cricket, without playing the rest of the year
Grace, Grit, Gumption, Gone
His shock 2003 elimination from the World Cup squad, in hindsight, wasn’t a smart decision. Ganguly only admits it now, but by 2005, when he played some blinding one-day innings to destroy Pakistan, it was too late. Two failures would mean curtains, as it always did, even in Tests. Thankfully, Laxman was intelligent enough to understand the importance of pure test cricket, and he didn’t risk further embarrassment in ODI cricket, by retiring early. He was now set to blossom, without a sense of impending doom in another format.
He became a genius with a purpose, and his role became clear in the years to come. After playing the greatest test innings in the history of cricket, VVS Laxman then carried an Indian middle order often drunk from their top-heavy first-morning partying. He’d amble between the wickets, converting 3s into 2s and 2s into 1s, along with an equally stiff Dravid- but still, still, no youngster with fast legs and a big heart could push the scholar out of the team. You’d not be able to imagine the presence of VVS and Dravid, knocking wrists together, symbolizing the meaning of seniority in Indian cricket. Even Ganguly, who relied on a lot more than form to stay in the team, had to acknowledge that for all their drawbacks and flaws, there was nobody more soothing to see at the crease in the last session of Day 4’s play.
World Cups came and went, and most would often forget that there was a Test Specialist named Laxman that waited all year to enter the field of battle. Until Dravid joined him, as the better-known Test Specialist- despite having an insanely successful ODI Career
Indian Test Cricket, RIP
It is, thus, only appropriate, that this will be the first time in 16 long years that Team India will play the first test of a series without Laxman and Dravid. It is also appropriate that Laxman did play a test more than Dravid after the latter retired with grace, instead demonstrating a bit of humanness and confusion and abruptly pulling out only days before his ‘farewell’ series. That the thought of retirement only occurred 4 days before the announcement, demonstrated that Laxman may have been hurt, and a bit unsettled by his dwindling status in the team.
He may not have been as sure as Dravid, and a lot less satisfied with his own retirement, but after all these years of living life at a sword’s edge- VVS was owed that much.
And a lot more.