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The Sistine Chapel that VVS Laxman built

In those days, time was measured in intervals of 40 minutes. That was how long it took for a period in school to get over. In those days, school kids didn’t know what cell phones were, let alone carry them to school to check the score. In those days, kids would run to the school canteen to check the score. On this day, every person that cared about cricket was prepared for the inevitable – the final frontier to be breached. But something went awry.

Each time the kids ran to the school canteen expecting the match to have been dutifully completed, they went back a bit disappointed. Some closure would afford them chance to go back to concentrating on their studies. Thankfully, none of that happened. For each time they went to check, a certain Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman held fort and refused to retreat. Over the next two days, India completed an improbable victory in what is arguably one of the greatest test matches to ever be played.

Of all Indian batsmen of note to have ever graced the game, VVS Laxman is of a different ilk. His batting possesses a sense of nonchalance, a breezy elegance that belies a steely resolve. To see him play, you would think his wrists were devoid of bone and were made up for with elastic. To see him turn defeat to victory with a sleight of hand, you wouldn’t think of him another journeyman in the annals of the game. But time and again, he has been called upon to fight not just for his team, but for his place.Very simply, Laxman is someone who doesn’t know how to say no. Say no to a challenge. Say no when a gauntlet is thrown at him. Say no when the odds are stacked against him. During India’s tour of Australia in 1999, while the entire team was finding even putting bat to ball an arduous task , VVS Laxman batted unfettered, almost as if he was asking the others in the line up – ‘whatcha finding so tough mate’? Scoring a fluent 167, he gave the Aussies a glimpse of what would be hurled at them 2 years later, when one of the best bowling line ups in the world limped back to the dressing room, asking themselves if what had just transpired was for real.

Jog recent memory and one would find it hard to unearth a test match victory where Laxman didn’t play a role. Time and again he has been called to rescue the team from the doldrums and handhold tailenders until they safely cross the finish line. Looking at his career, one would realise that’s the role he is most comfortable in – standing out when everybody has thrown the towel in. Rewriting the finish when the naysayers were waiting for their prematurely written obituaries to unfold.

Years from now, our children may ask what VVS Laxman did to deserve such lavish praise. He never played a world cup, never became an overnight star under the t20 spotlight, never lent himself to media fodder. Then, you would have to sit them down and retell a tale that has been told many times. When on March 15, 2001, the entire crowd at Eden Garden erupted as the umpire raised his hand, handing Indian cricket one of its greatest moments, something in Indian cricket changed. It wasn’t just the stadium that erupted, but every Indian home rose in unison when the final wicket was claimed.

Though he has memerized time and again, like many of Michaelangelo’s other works, it is his 281that rewrote how Indians played their cricket. It was almost like Michelangelo painting the roof of the Sistine Chapel lying on his back. If there ever was a time when the team had its back to the wall, it was the moment that Laxman walked in. Compare each run he scored with each stroke that Michelangelo made, adding up to a magnum opus. See the near impossibility of what they achieved and you’ll realise that no great work is achieved by lying on your back (Michelangelo being an exception). 

No work of art that stands the test of time is created when the winds favoured you. Would Michaelangelo’s rendition of the Sistine chapel elicit the same awe when drawn on an ipad? How many scintillating t20 innings do you remember from season 2 of the IPL? In his own words, he spent a lot of his career insecure about his side in the team. A sad declaration from a master artist.  

Cricketers don’t have the luxury of putting their signature on a match like an artist does on a canvas. But when you explain to your children what he means to Indian cricket, ask them to look really, really closely on his career and that magical innings in particular.

It has VVS Laxman written all over it.


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