Every cricketer is defined by his own unique character. I have been fortunate to have seen in action, the grit of Steve Waugh, the technique of Rahul Dravid, the style of Brian Lara and Saurav Ganguly and the brutality of Matthew Hayden and Sanath Jayasuriya. But what elevates Laxman to another plane altogether is that he has three of those defining characteristics in abundance. Maybe that is why we do not have any word to exalt him, as we do with Master Blaster or The Wall.
The first time I saw him with interest was in the Eden Gardens test against the Aussies in 1998. He was opening with Sidhu, and scored a 95, in an innings where the top 6 scored fifties, with Azharuddin scoring an imperious century. Remember, this was the time before the emergence of new India: they still played with three spinners at home with Ganguly sharing new ball duty with Srinath.
After that, he remained in the shadows until the glorious 167 at Sydney. Scored at breathtaking pace, this is an innings I love to watch, although India surrendered for less than 250. Then came the mother of all monumental innings – that knock at Eden Gardens that gave birth to the legend of Laxman. Here was a man unperturbed by the situation or bowlers, heralding the arrival of a new fearless India.
His 89 at Port Elizabeth during Sehwag’s debut series was a match saving innings, although it was in the first innings – India folded for 201 and Laxman had a 9th wicket partnership of 80 with Kumble. This was the first of many rescue acts involving batsmen of lesser calibre, who were inspired by the calm and panache of the seemingly soft man at the other end.
He is like a prodigious student at the end of his school life – tough exams such as the JEE bring out the best in him, igniting his brilliant mind into overdrive; and lesser school exams are too boring for him to expend his energy. He rarely makes wild guesses, but relies on his intuition at times. Laxman rarely slogs or hits out, and relies on the good judgement of the tailenders batting with him.
There are times when the Twenty-20 loving Indian public question the inclusion of technically sound and more importantly, stubborn batsmen in place of the dashers. They’ll realise their folly if they think of one man: Laxman.