Joseph Hoover is a senior sports journalist and also a wildlife photographer.
VVS Laxman’s decision to suddenly retire has come as a rude shock to all of us. That he has retired close on the heels of Rahul Dravid, who called it a day in the immediate aftermath of the disastrous series (0-4) against Australia, will certainly impact India cricket which will be without two of its greatest batsmen in the modern era.
It was with intent to serve Indian cricket that Laxman made frequent visits to the National Cricket Academy to strengthen his troublesome lower back.
He had played the just-concluded Safi Darashah tournament to prepare for the two-Test series against New Zealand. The Hyderabad dazzler had given no hint of retirement even when he was named in the Test squad last week.
Wonder what made him take such a hurried decision. Was he coerced into taking this decision by former cricketers? We should be inclined to believe so as Sunil Gavaskar, Sanjay Manjrekar and a host of others have been regularly throwing barbs at him, questioning his fitness and consistency.
Whatever be the reason for the abrupt retirement, his presence in the middle order will be deeply felt. India has never had a greater number six batsman than Laxman in its cricketing history. Apart from Tendulkar, who is in as much a shock as we are, and Dravid, nobody has snatched victories for India from the jaws of defeat.
Can we ever forget his match-saving partnerships with Dravid against Australia in Kolkata and Adelaide? Those were knocks of great significance which made every Indian cricketer believe that they could beat the best and emerge as the world’s number one team.
He was batsman with supreme confidence and elegance, a batsman who made a fast bowler of Brett Lee’s pace quiver at the top of his bowling mark. He mauled Lee with effortless ease, the drive and punch of the back foot leaving Australia’s quickest bowler an exasperated man.
Having closely followed Laxman as a twelve-year-old (1987 Nutrine Superstar tournament in Vijayawada), we had the privilege of talking to him this morning. He had said he would retire after the second Test at Bangalore.
Shocked at his decision to hang up his boots with immediate effect, we asked why he had changed his mind?
Pat came the answer. “I had made up my mind to quit after the Bangalore match. But as I sat back and thought about my career, I felt it would be better that the youngsters get a chance to play an inexperienced New Zealand attack and gain confidence. It would be right thing to do in the interest of Indian cricket,” said Laxman.
When Sachin Tendulkar himself says that “when I walk out to play in Hyderabad I will feel a deep void, a void that never can be fulfilled”, you can well imagine what Indian cricket would be without one of its humblest servants of the game.
We will miss you VVS.