VVS Laxman is a man whom a lot of Indians have admired over the last decade or so. He has been a very important clog in India’s middle order and a member of the Fabulous Four. He has been a fighter and been instrumental in some of the most famous wins registered by Team India. He has already played in 100 Test matches and CNN-IBN caught up with the elegant Hyderabadi to know his views on his career, teammates, and on always being on the chopping block despite having a very good batting record.
CNN-IBN: A hundred Test matches - was that one of your goals when you started out playing cricket?
VVS Laxman: I definitely wanted to play as long as possible. I always had the desire to represent the country and contribute to the country for a long time, once I took the decision of not becoming a doctor. But numbers were never in my mind.
CNN-IBN: What did you feel on that day in Nagpur? When you walked out for the 100th time as a Test cricketer, did you feel you had accomplished something very special in the game?
VVS Laxman: On that day, I was not feeling anything, because it was an important match and the time I walked in, three quick wickets had fallen. So I was just concentrating on the job at hand. But before that it was definitely a very satisfying moment, because the background I came from, parents being doctors, all my cousins being either doctors or engineers, with the entire family leaning on academics, coming and representing the country from that kind of background itself was a great feeling. And someone playing 100 matches - I'm really blessed. I should thank all my well wishers and obviously my parents, my brother, my uncle - who actually spotted talent in me, my wife after marriage was very supportive. And all the coaches who have been a part of this wonderful journey and who have been alongside me in all the ups and downs I had in my journey. So, definitely it was a proud moment for me because representing the country even once is a great challenge for any kid in the country. Everyone dreams of playing for India, and me playing 100 matches for India was definitely one of the proud moments in my life.
CNN-IBN: Have you felt over your career, that always had to live in the shadow of several people, judged in comparison to these other great batsmen, and as a result have had to prove yourself constantly?
VVS Laxman: No, I never felt that. I always wanted to think about things, which I could control. I had got an opportunity to represent the country and everyone who dons that Indian cap has got the responsibility to go out and perform. So I never thought about all these things. I never played cricket for adulation, I never played cricket for appreciation from the crowds. I just wanted to go out and perform for the team. I'm happy that I have been given an opportunity to do that. I never felt not being satisfied or being in the shadow of other players. But saying that, all of us, and I'm very lucky that I am playing alongside the greats of Indian cricket. We as a team have done well. Since the time I started and till now, I think we have progressed well as a team and we have achieved a lot of laurels and have all contributed in achieving our goals, especially our victories overseas, which is what we all craved for when we started our cricket. And achieving that is definitely not going to be an individual contribution but as a team we all have contributed. I never think about being overshadowed. It's been a great journey.
CNN-IBN: Have you never felt under-appreciated? Of late there has been a lot of talk by some senior players such as yourself and Anil (Kumble) before he left about how you are treated during the latter half of your career. Have you been hurt by a lot of the talk?
VVS Laxman: That has happened to me right from the start of my career. I made my international debut in 1996 and till 2000, I was never a regular member of the Indian cricket team. Even though I was given one or two opportunities here and there, I never played Test cricket continuously. I have always been put under pressure. Those four years of international cricket really taught me to become mentally tough. After the Sri Lanka tour, it was tough. Media reports about when a player should retire and when is the time for him to go, which is discouraging and it hurts you. We have all contributed our bit to Indian cricket and we all know when is the time for us to retire. It was degrading our contribution to Indian cricket. We were going to start an important series against Australia - the No. 1 team in world cricket. But doubts have been there right throughout my career. There have been various reports that I should not be playing in certain matches. So I don't think about things, which are beyond my control. As long as I get an opportunity to go out and do my bit, I will be quite happy with that.
CNN-IBN: As a collective unit, you're all very close friends besides being colleagues and cricketers. Did all five of you ever sit down and talk about all this? Did you talk that you now need to go out there and maybe show the world that you're still good enough?
VVS Laxman: Before the start of the Australia series, all of us had a wonderful camp in Bangalore, Gary Kirsten and Anil should be complemented, in the way they conducted the camp and each one of us had the goal of beating Australia, because we all want to achieve our long-term goal which is to become the No. 1 Test-playing nation in the world. The process started off in Australia last December. We had a very good series there, and since then we have been doing well. We did have a disappointing tour of Sri Lanka but it was a huge challenge for us to be the No. 1 team in India. We all had the objective of beating them and we all sat together. And probably these reports really united the team much more, and I think that showed in the way we played our cricket. Each one of us was enjoying the success of each other, and we were helping each other. It's so important in a team sport. We never thought about re-proving ourselves, but we definitely talked about going out playing to our potential, and winning the series for the country.
CNN-IBN: You have mentioned the fact that you have personally been under the scanner. Have you felt that the things that you have achieved have somehow not gone to the same level of understanding, or acknowledged by the cricket community?
VVS Laxman: If I wouldn't have got that kind of acknowledgment I wouldn't have played 100 Test matches. It's not the appreciation I am looking for. I have been able to prove myself that I can contribute to the Indian team and perform consistently for the team. The biggest acknowledgment for me is representing the team for 100 Test matches and being part of Indian cricket for the last 12 years. I don't think about adulation or the endorsements I did or didn't do. What is important is what I have contributed to Indian cricket. My father has taught me this. He doesn't think about the recognition he gets from his friends. What he has contributed is important for him. I only think that I should be contributing more and more and try and win more matches for the country. The recognition for me is playing so many Test matches, and it's quite satisfying.
CNN-IBN: As a team how important was this series against Australia? What did beating Australia mean?
VVS Laxman: I think when we are trying to be the number one Test team, beating the number one Test team that convincingly was satisfying for all of us. I think the results were good but we could have won the Delhi Test too. And the manner in which we played is something we can take a lot of confidence from in the Test cricket coming in the future. We have games against England, Pakistan and New Zealand. We are very happy with the way things have gone against Australia and we are looking forward very optimistically.
CNN-IBN: Half of your Test hundreds have come against Australia, you have more than 2000 runs against them. How do you explain doing well against them over a period of time?VVS Laxman: I enjoy playing against the Australians. I think the nature in which they play helps to get the best out of me. They are very aggressive, they are always there to take your wicket and they don't give an inch to you. I have always enjoyed playing in Australia. As a kid, I used to love watching matches in Australia. And I have always enjoyed batting on those surfaces.
CNN-IBN: There were talks that you will not play the Delhi Test. India will play five bowlers and VVS Laxman is going to get dropped but you played and went out to get a double hundred.
VVS Laxman: That was the talk in the media but the team's think-tank never even thought on those lines. I am very happy that the new selection committee came and spoke to each one of us and gave us a lot of confidence. It is something that is not in our control and sometimes it is upsetting. But my initial experience in Test cricket has hardened me and I don't even think on those lines because it is not going to help and is going to harm you and disappoint you and take away the mental energy. The only think I can control is go out there and get runs for the country.
CNN-IBN: You have a phenomenal record against Australia, but your record against Zimbabwe and Bangladesh is really poor. Do you think you have missed out against these teams?
VVS Laxman: Yes, definitely. See these teams are not that strong as compared to some of the other teams. But there are certain reasons why I missed out. I was batting at number six. When you are playing against Bangladesh or Zimbabwe your team is doing really well, so you don't get an opportunity to score big runs. It would have been nice to score big runs against these teams. Though I have an excellent average against Australia, my average against other teams is not bad, though I didn't get big hundreds.
But the journey is still on and I would have loved to have more than 12 hundreds but the number six batting position doesn't help. You either go in when the team is doing well and you have to score quick runs and you may lose your wicket in the bargain or you are left stranded with no support from the other end. So, the number of hundreds is something I want to improve, but for me the kind of knocks I play in tough situations is more satisfying for me.
For example, the 69 I got in Bombay against Australia gives me more pleasure than the hundred I scored against Zimbabwe where we scored more than 500 runs. So, I always cherish playing under pressure.
CNN-IBN: Do you see yourself as an artist because your batting is unique?
VVS Laxman: I see myself as a batsman who just goes out and gets runs for the country and it is for the people to judge. My batting style has come naturally. Couple of reasons I can think of is when I playing in school we used to play on a cement wicket and there the ball skids on to the bat and there is not much deviation. Also, playing on matting wickets, where the ball comes at an awkward height from a good length spot. So, you have to play more wristy shots. These two reasons also helped me play fast bowling and I have always enjoyed playing fast bowling.
Though I practiced really hard and I still work very hard on my batting but all these things came naturally to me. What I developed later was to analyse the situation and adopt to the kind of wickets I was playing on and also my shot selection. These three aspects I developed as my career progressed.
CNN-IBN: Do you see the last in this heritage of batting after Viswanath, Azhar because the younger lot doesn't play like that?
VVS Laxman: I think the younger lot is a lot better because they can play the big shots. Nobody thought after Vishy anybody would come or after Azhar anybody would come. So it's very difficult to say that because you never know who is going to come up in the near future. I have seen a lot of youngsters who can play a similar kind of a game.
CNN-IBN: Seven out of the eight Indians who have played 100 Tests have been captains of India but why haven't you even come close to it?
VVS Laxman: I was close once when I was the vice-captain on the tour of South Africa but I have played against cricketers who have been a little senior to me and who have done well but I never though on those lines at all. It is something, which is given to you, and it is something, which is beyond my control. It is up to the selection panel. I have captained the India A team and also in Ranji and Duleep trophies, everything except the Indian team. I think I have done well whenever I have got the chance. But it is something, which I have never thought of, and when the chance comes I will be keen.
CNN-IBN: About your career-changing 281 in Kolkata, your roommate told me the previous night you said if it doesn't come for you in this Test, you might reconsider your decision to play cricket. Did that come to that level
VVS Laxman: I said that before I scored 167 in Sydney. I shared the thought with Sourav. I really wanted to score a hundred in Australia and that was the last Test for me and I was not picked for the ODIs. So I thought this is the last chance for me.
But before the 281 there were no thoughts because of the situation we were in. It allowed me to play my natural game before thinking of the result. I played the way I played in domestic cricket because before that I got a triple hundred against Karnataka and two double hundreds, one in Ranji Trophy and one in Duleep Trophy. So I just played the way I used to for Hyderabad and South Zone. I just played according to the merit of the ball.
So, I would say that the 167 in Australia was the turning point and not the 281 as far as my self-belief is concerned. Before that I was not a regular member and I used to be an opener. Even though after two innings post the 167, I was dropped from the team. But that gave me the confidence that I could go and get big runs for the country.
There have been a lot of turning points in my career though. First were my parents giving me the freedom to take cricket as a profession and my uncle played a big role in that.
Another was my Under-19 tour to Australia because that was a tough tour. At that point, I didn't have the confidence in me and I should thank Sandeep Patil who was the Under-19 coach then because he straightaway said I was ready to play for India. Then making by debut at the age of 22 because if I hadn't done that I would have left cricket and come back to medicine. So before the 167 and the 282 there have been a lot of career defining moments and I really thank all those who have helped me.
CNN-IBN: A lot of pundits felt that your 281 changed Indian cricket forever. So you see that as an extraordinary moment in Indian cricket?
VVS Laxman: One thing we learnt as a team that you can bail out the team from any situation. After the Eden Gardens Test, we were in similar situations like in Adelaide but we as a team and personally me have contributed in that situation. So we can take the confidence that we can come out of any tough situation.
And the second thing is that we can beat any side in world cricket. It was a home series for us but Australia was doing extremely well, they had won 16 Test matches and were the best side in the world. But the manner in which we beat them in close and tough conditions gave us the confidence that we can beat any side in the world. And that also gave us confidence when we were touring other countries. Our overseas record actually improved after the 2001 Test series.
CNN-IBN: One strange thing is that you have played 80 odd ODI games. So you have played fewer ODIs and more Tests, that's a rare thing these days. Do you regret what has happened in your One-day career?
VVS Laxman: Yes, I do regret it because I thought I could have played more. I was dropped in 2004 when I thought I was doing reasonably well in both forms of the game. I had a very successful series in Australia and in Pakistan and then I was dropped. I felt I could have contributed to Indian cricket in ODIs.
CNN-IBN: Have you ever been given a reason why that happened?
VVS Laxman: No.
CNN-IBN: Did you expect a reason?
VVS Laxman: Anyone who is dropped expects a reason. But I was not given any reason. But there are a couple of reasons, which people say. One is that I am a bad fielder and the running between the wickets.
CNN-IBN: Do you buy that?
VVS Laxman: I am definitely not the quickest in Indian cricket but one thing that upsets me is that even when I was not fit, I played the one-day matches like I had a knee injury. So when I was able to contribute to the team with the knee problem. In the Asia Cup in Sri Lanka, I had a knee injury because the ball hit me in the same spot thrice but I still played the finals. So how can I become a bad fielder in five months?
Sometimes these things upset me but you move on. You think about the things, which are good. If I was too upset over me not being picked for ODIs it would not have helped my Test cricket.
CNN-IBN: Did you expect your captains, Sourav, Sachin or Rahul, the people you shared the dressing room with in Test cricket, to support you more in one-day cricket?
VVS Laxman: They did, I remember Sachin asking me to stay back in Australia for the ODIs. Sourav has done that, Rahul has done that. So I have no complains against them. What happens in a selection committee meeting is something I don't want to know. It is a confidential meeting.
CNN-IBN: Do you regret not playing a World Cup?
VVS Laxman: Definitely the 2003 World Cup. In 1999, I came very close and I was keen that I should play the 2003 World Cup. In fact, since my comeback to the team as as a middle order batsman, it was one of my aims. And it was a rude shock at that time because I was performing really well and suddenly I was not in the team. I never understood the reason. But luckily, there was a gap of five moths between the World Cup and the next Test series. I spent that with my family and friends and that got me back on to the right track.
CNN-IBN: It was reported that you were so upset that you stopped having conversations with coach John Wright.
VVS Laxman: No, that was an exaggeration but I was disappointed. I would have understood if I was not doing well but I was contributing and performing well and then I was not picked for the World Cup, something I always dreamt of. I have played 83 One-Dayers, but I have never participated in the World Cup. But I dreamt of playing for the country and just because I missed one tournament does not mean I should lose the desire.
CNN-IBN: Obviously, you will be planning your career from now as to how many years are left and there will be a lot of talk in the media. What do you make of it?
VVS Laxman: I am still enjoying my game and I am still contributing. Any individual who has played for so many years knows himself the time to quit. All of us are mature and all of us know our role in Indian cricket. At the moment we all are focussing on becoming the No. 1 Test playing country. I am enjoying the process and I want to be part of the process. I don't know for how many years I will play. And at the moment, I am just concentrating on the England Test series, which is going to be a challenging series. They have done well in the past. The confidence of doing well against the Australians will help us.
CNN-IBN: Have you thought of career goals like 8000 Test runs or 20 Test hundreds?
VVS Laxman: No, I don't put numbers in my mind. Along the way, if you achieve some numbers that is going to be of statistical importance, it's going to be great. But for me the greatest satisfaction is playing match-winning knocks. And some of the situation I have been in have been more satisfying than getting a hundred. I always cherish the opportunity of bailing the team out of tough situations, which I have done for the Indian team in the past few years and I want to continue that.
CNN-IBN: Any plans of becoming coach or selector?
VVS Laxman: I haven't really thought of what I am going to do after cricket. But in a way, we all contribute to help the coach in planning and we all take the roles of mentors. We all want the team to do well and interact well within ourselves. There are various roles a player can play. it is not only after retirement he can come in as a coach. As players we take responsibility of mentoring a youngster or a bowler become a better batsman or helping the team in developing tactics. So the contribution of a player is not restricted to doing well in his respective field.
CNN-IBN: You have a young son. Any signs of him growing to be a cricketer?
VVS Laxman: I don't know about that but he definitely enjoys hitting the ball and running around, which is so important nowadays. I hope he will be more athletic than me but it's good he enjoys hitting the ball. And most important thing at that stage is the ball sense and he has got that. But don't put pressure on him already.
CNN-IBN: One last question, how do you want the fans to think of you?
VVS Laxman: One thing I would be happy with is a batsman who has bailed the team out of tough situations and one who has always performed under pressure. And I will always be proud of that aspect of the game.
CNN-IBN: Thank you VVS Laxman and good luck.