VVS Laxman is lax! The clause is fit to enter the dictionary of cricket oxymoron, as generally it's the adjective 'Very, Very Special' that finds its way to placards at worldwide stadia. But at 37, the rise and fall of the chest is more conspicuous, leading to sympathetic cracks in an otherwise captivating career.
After Mohammad Azaharuddin added 'Hyderabadi wristwork' to coaching manuals, Laxman carried the tradition forward with timing that made the Sydney Cricket Ground a beloved and Eden a celebration garden.
That use of the crease to add a fraction of a second more to his sweet timing, those sinuous wrists spelling their magic, that pivot which adds majesty to a flick, that on-drive tutoring how to thread a needle – it's all Laxman. But something is wrong of late. The Laxman strokes, which used to inspire awe, are drying up rapidly – giving a faint indication that the second subtraction to India's 'Fab Four' is on its way.
Laxman, dare say, is feared more than Sachin Tendulkar in Australia. And if there was somebody who went to Australia with constant supply of oxygen, it had to be Laxman; however, the first 62 balls he faced suffocated him, producing just five runs, until that 66 at the SCG – his favourite hunting ground.
The Aussies – one may say – have sorted Laxman out on his fourth tour Down Under. Bowl full to him, just outside off, and deny early runs – it has turned out to be the perfect recipe to choke Laxman, who likes to sink deep into the crease.
Failures in England and Australia have now swelled Laxman's sub-standard overseas outings to 12 innings producing 253 runs. Scores of 58 and 176 not out in between came only at home against a lowly West Indies on slow, low wickets in Delhi and Kolkata. That clearly indicates an aging Laxman's reflexes have become sluggish in swinging and bouncy conditions.
But is that the age factor or resignation to the fact that "I'm past my prime"? Tough question, but a valid one at that. Scores of 2, 1, 2 – other than the half-century in the second innings at the SCG – point fingers at celebrated figures of 132 Tests and 8697 runs at an average of 46.5, including 17 centuries and 56 half-centuries.
More than that, it's the contrasting nature in the way he played at home and away. The indolent hand-eye coordination that hid behind run-laden home tracks was brought under the sky by England's lateral movement. Australia took the cue and exploited it in Melbourne and Sydney.
So are we reading the last chapter of Laxman's biography? Possibly, though not definitely. Sourav Ganguly is still lugging his kitbag at domestic airports, Rahul Dravid isn't thinking of retirement at 39 and runs refuse to stop flowing from 38-year-old Tendulkar. Will Laxman think differently? Better put, will Laxman - for that matter Tendulkar and Dravid too - realise that there is nothing 'permanent' except 'change'? Perth and Adelaide should answer that question.