“Ah son, but you should have seen VVS Laxman bat. They don’t make them like that any more.”
I’ll be saying that to my grandchildren, but, if truth be told, were VVS to retire tomorrow, I’ll be saying it to my children, because he is the last of a species, driven to extinction by the twin assaults of power-hitting bats and Twenty20 cricket. VVS Laxman has taken guard for India 271 times in Tests and ODIs hitting just 8 sixes, as many as Brendon McCullum hit in one Twenty20 match in February. His nearest comparator playing today, Mahela Jayawardene, has played one fewer Test, but hit over ten times as many sixes in those matches. VVS is one of a kind – and the last one too.
So what is all the fuss about? It’s hard to put into words – the commentators at Testmatchsofa.com were reduced to groaning as if they were dubbing soft porn, rather than describing a run chase at Mohali. It may be easier to say what VVS is not. Though he barely uses his feet, he is no Trescothick, standing up straight to smash the cover off the ball; though his wrists can direct any ball to anywhere on the field, he is no Eoin Morgan, finding gaps and scampering ones and twos; though he has the balance of a Mark Waugh, the technique is individual, not classical; though he scores runs quickly and in volume, he is neither a Virender Sehwag nor a Sachin Tendulkar.
The two characteristics that mark VVS as unique are the utterly effortless transfer of weight backwards and forwards through the crease that allows the sweetest possible timing as the wrists break just sufficiently to send the ball through the in-field gaps. Only two men have ever come close to VVS in their capacity to hit the ball exactly when (and therefore where) they want to in my time watching cricket – David Gower and Brian Lara (though he favoured power later in his career). The second characteristic, almost impossibly residing in the same man as a technique dependent on the tiny fractions of a second in which the ball approaches and hits the bat, is the ability to make runs in Test cricket’s hottest cauldrons. Has any batsman ever played better against top class bowling when his country needed it most? And within a month of his 36th birthday, VVS has done it again – twice in two Tests – to square a series in Sri Lanka and to guarantee retention of the Border-Gavaskar Trophy in Chandigarh.
When VVS retires, he will be bracketed with Tendulkar and Dravid as the great Indian batsmen of their generation (they have played 101 Tests together after all) and will be positioned a notch below both of them – VVS’s numbers are nowhere near either of those giants’. But there will be run machines in the future of whom you will say, “He’s like Tendulkar, this bloke” and orthodoxy given life of whom you will say, “He’s like Dravid, this bloke”. There will never be the opportunity to say, “He’s like VVS, this bloke”, because there will never be another player anything like VVS, so keep the DVDs under lock and key and pray youtube doesn’t go bust.
You can find the Tooting Trumpet at Testmatchsofa.com and on Twitter at @garynaylor999 and @Fakeadil.