Top critical review
Good in Parts
17 February 2019
281 and beyond : VVS Laxman
If ever, any one had to prove the theory that your greatness and your place in history is a function of when and where you were born – the example of VVS Laxman (a fellow Hyderabadi) can come on top of this.
Here was a player who possibly had the best selection of shots, averages as good as any one of the frontline players in India and an attitude and temperament that was the epitome of team spirit but possibly never as celebrated and hero worshipped as his peers in the game. That is the problem if you are playing international cricket along with the talismanic master – Tendulkar, the wall - Rahul Dravid, the swashbuckling Sehwag and the in your face and leading from the front Captain Saurav Ganguly. The importance of Laxman will possibly get buried under the collective greatness of his peers whose heroics and records are held in awe by a cricket obsessed nation and a panegyric published every quarter by some ardent fanboy author. There in lies a tale and the story of one of India’s most stylish batsmen who saved us the blushes so many times in so many matches (there is more to him than the 281 at Kolkata where he won the match for us along with Dravid). On an unrelated note, his career reminds you of Ringo Starr, a vital cog in the Beatles but never as acknowledged as the more flamboyant Lennon, McCartney or Harrison.
He was just like any one of us. Middle class upbringing, studied in a school more famous for academics than sports ( Little flower High School for the record did not even have a cricket ground ) and parents who were Doctors and possibly wished that their son carried the noble tradition. Talent and a persevering uncle who punted on his talent led to a change of course midway for this would be Doctor and heralded the birth of one of India’s most dependable players.
Like all books on cricketers, it takes us thru the grind – the Manoo Trophy matches ( equivalent of the Harris shield in Mumbai), the Moin-Ud Dowla tournaments, the Under 19s, Ranjis and Duleep trophies and his arrival on the international stage. At times it seems labored and slightly boring – but this is par for the course in any sportsman’s autobiography. The journey is captured in great detail and we have to endure it.
I have a feeling that destiny has not been very kind on him. Inspite of his performances and the talent beneath, he was dropped as often as he was included into the team. A guiding Godfather seems missing in his chequered career who could have steered his career and taken care of this gifted ward. Think he was too much of a nice guy who wanted things to happen to him based purely on merit.
He writes very candidly about his anxieities of being included/ dropped from the team, trying to match up to his more prolific run scoring team members, the obsession with centuries, the ham handed way the team management ( and also some of his captains) treated him, the existential issues of the one day world where he was plagued with self-doubt, the la la world of IPL and much more. At times, you feel that he deserved better and think that fate should have dealt more winning cards to him.
Can an autobiography by an Indian player be complete without the usual Greg Chappel bashing. The answer is NO and there is a full chapter on the wicked ways of the tormentor Chappell.
His gratitude for the seniors who persisted with him comes across very clearly in the book. His fondness and also acknowledgement of his guru and mentor…the late Doctor MV Sridhar (possibly the greatest Indian batsman who never donned the Indian cap – check out his first class records) comes out very clearly and warmed my heart as Sridhar was like extended family to us.
While the book does not have the style and chutzpah of Ganguly’s books ( there are two of them and both are outstanding) or the openness and tell all style of Shane Warne ( No Spin – Great Book), the book faithfully captures the mind and heart of a talented cricketer who did his duty for the country. And what stays with you at the end of the book is not his great matches but the fact that he was a well-meaning, inherently decent, God fearing simple man…who loved playing for his country and shepherding it to victory whenever given an opportunity . These qualities endear you to him much much more than all the records of his peers.