Wonder what got Laxman’s goat that he should announce his retirement so suddenly when he was selected to play both the Tests against New Zealand. If his wife herself was unaware of the decision, then it stands to reason that there is more to it than meets the eye. Perhaps, some day when Laxman decides to write his memoirs, we will get to know what transpired in the week following announcement of the Indian team for the Kiwi Test series.
While Laxman’s retirement was very much on the cards, but perhaps after the home series against his favourite foe Australia later this year, the suddenness of his decision to quit cannot be glossed over by saying his mind and heart were not in continuing to don the whites for India.
The fact is that the affable Hyderabadi was preparing for the new season as if it were his first. He spent a few weeks at the NCA in Bangalore, then played local league and even travelled to Mysore for the Darashah Trophy tournament.
He hammered a 169 and though the bowling attack was nothing to talk about, those who saw the innings turned nostalgic saying the knock evoked memories of Laxman in his salad days, replete with the elegant flicks, lofted hits over covers and the patented shot to mid-wicket from outside offstump.
Under the circumstances, it is rather mysterious that Laxman should call it a day barely 48 hours before the first Test in his home town Hyderabad. He waived the opportunity to retire in front of his adoring home crowd, something that every cricketer worth his salt would like to do. However, for the present, we have accept the situation and only hope that Laxman will one day in the future reveal what triggered his sudden decision to step down.
His statement that he could not reach skipper Dhoni, I thought, was rather significant. So what was it that he wanted to discuss with Dhoni immediately and that couldn’t wait until the captain arrived in Hyderabad for the Test match? It is another point to ponder and fodder for the rumour mills.
To say the obvious and repeat a popular sentiment, Laxman will be missed in the Indian Test dressing room that he had occupied with dignity and decorum for over a decade. For all the plaudits he was showered with on his retirement, I doubt that Laxman, like his long-time friend Dravid, got his due for his contribution to Indian cricket or for that matter, his stature as a Test batsman who was no slouch in the one-dayers.
Perhaps, Laxman’s biggest regret would be that he never got to play in a single World Cup, unfairly categorized as he was as a Test batsman. Lesser players than Laxman have greatly benefited by many chances offered to them while the affable Hyderabadi was cast aside without so much a thought or care. Yet, Laxman never took his foot off the throttle in Test matches, notably against the Aussies Down Under.
Laxman is the penultimate of the four giants who ruled Indian cricket like no quartet before, except perhaps the Bedi-Venkat-Chandra-Prasanna foursome. Along with Dravid, Sachin and Ganguly, he formed a formidable middle-order that at its peak was considered the best in the world.
But then, as in life, everything is cyclical and what begins has to end at some point before a new cycle commences. The philosophy apart, it remains to be seen whether the likes of Pujara and Rohit Sharma, the two most likely to occupy the key No.5 or 6 positions in the batting line-up, will fill Laxman’s big boots. Rohit has been a huge disappointment and I feel he is in serious need of some counseling or else, Indian cricket will lose a talent while Pujara will have to work much harder to hold his spot in the side.
I always wondered why journalists and also the public keep harping on the age factor. The moment a sportsperson reaches 30, the talk begins and in the case of Laxman, it was incessant. The man was a far softer target than say Ganguly or Dravid while nobody dared to talk about Sachin. Laxman forever seemed to be under scrutiny, no matter how he performed. Even the 281 in Kolkata was no deterrent to armchair critics.
So much so that I strongly feel Laxman was eventually hounded out of the team by a pack of wolves in sheep’s garb, and the disastrous tours last year only made the calls for his head so much more strident. Yet, I quite liked the way Laxman dealt with the situation with his usual dignity and poise.
Indeed, it is sad that India knows not how to look after its sportspersons, much less heroes. The expectations are usually unnaturally high and based on fanciful thinking. For me, Laxman is the latest rabbit caught in the headlights and shot at before the crocodile tears begin to flow. So, if Sachin has begun to look over his shoulders, then you will know why.