Adios Laxman, for right or wrong
A very, very special career innings has come to an end. VVS Laxman, the backbone of the Indian middle order for the past decade, has walked into the sunset. Add this bit of headline news to Rahul Dravid bidding adieu earlier in 2012 and we have a gaping hole in the Test batting line-up staring at us.
Usually when such an event occurs, that of a glorious cricketer hanging up his boots, there is a calming chain of events that follow. The BCCI will come forth to facilitate the player, the media gets into a beeline to speak with him and the fans lap up all of it. Everybody sings his praise, deservedly, and there are enough comments to keep you busy for a week, if international cricket isn't just round the corner. The national selectors wait a couple of days and announce their future plans, which the retiring player was obviously part of, all channels of communication being open. This process is termed a smooth transition.
Of course that is a bit too much to expect with Indian cricket and the resultant is the shit-storm that Laxman is leaving in his wake. He didn't deserve it, cricket certainly didn't deserve it and the fans didn't wish it on him. The rest is open to conjecture and that is not such a good thing in itself.
Did Laxman time his retirement right, because the whole saga starts from there? In hindsight this is a call that should have been appropriately made in Australia. After the second Test in Sydney, not bringing in Rohit Sharma into the playing XI just didn't make sense. If he had been dropped then, it is quite possible he would have never harboured hopes of playing on another season. But it didn't happen, for the team management wasn't willing enough.
The selectors never came into the loop until now for this is the first Test series since the debacle of 8-0. Even when Dravid announced his retirement, the big question on everybody's lips was - what about Laxman?
By selecting him in the squad to play New Zealand, the selectors delegated responsibility on to the team management. Once he was selected there was no way he wasn't going to be playing, rest assured. All talk was about who would fit into Dravid's spot. Kris Srikkanth's outgoing selection committee risked a very crucial phase in Indian cricket against their better judgement. This is not the first time they have done so. However, by not ushering the transition in, they showed a lack of commitment in their final official task, waiting for the next bunch of wise men to correct their mistakes.
Yes, I am implying that Laxman shouldn't have been in the original squad to play New Zealand in the first place. However, since his name was there, what did the selectors tell him? Did they ask him to perform or perish? Or did they tell him in unclear terms - as has been reported - that they wouldn't be the ones to drop him, leaving him unsure about the motives of the new committee? It is clear now that the Hyderabad Test was never going to be his swan-song, as some people thought. The stylish batsman intended to play on and his sudden 'inner call' to immediately exit the scene points to only one thing - he didn't like what was conveyed to him.
This notion is further strengthened by the BCCI and the selectors distancing themselves from his decision. Laxman himself didn't hide the fact that he wasn't able to reach MS Dhoni and inform him of the decision. There are two ways to look at it. One, the Indian captain is a recluse when off the field and that there is certain rift in the dressing room. It is easy to accept this because that is how it has been played in the open, for long now.
And two, that he was unreachable, was purely coincidental. The team was scheduled to assemble in Hyderabad over the weekend and he might have been travelling or was otherwise occupied ahead of a long season. When Dravid retired, he conveyed it to his friends, colleagues and close-ones on Wednesday, a full two days before announcing it to the world on Friday. Dhoni can't be blamed for Laxman's rush. That he wasn't dropped in Australia and was in the team even now shows a lack of ulterior motive from the team management's part.
Instead, the way this whole situation has been handled reflects poorly on the board - the face of our glorious selectors - alone. They did not show the gall to take a bold decision when they could easily have, letting it get out of hand both for the player concerned and everyone else alike. Mind you, this is no ordinary player we are talking about.
He is a most-revered batsman, respected by all opposition alike, bedrock of the middle order for more than a decade, and along with Dravid, was India's go-to man in times of impending disaster. Amidst all this needless brouhaha, he has walked away, quite possibly with a bruised ego. This was the one big wrong in everything that is right about his decision to retire. And it shouldn't have happened this way.
More about Chetan NarulaStudying engineering and business administration couldn't satiate his mind and in 2007, Chetan Narula found his calling as a sportswriter/journalist. Since then he was written on cricket, F1 and football at various avenues not only in India but also in USA and UK. He also worked as cricket commentator (voice) at ESPN for their mobile and web platforms, doing over a hundred matches. High points of his career include witnessing history at Wankhede Stadium (Mumbai) when India lifted the ODI World Cup and his first book, Skipper: A Definitive Account of India's Greatest Captains, which hits bookstores in July 2011. His Twitter feed is here.
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