|VVS Laxman celebrates after reaching his century during the fifth Pakistan v India ODI at the Gadaffi Stadium on March 24, 2004 in Lahore
Let us get down to paying full tribute to V.V.S. Laxman, the most beautiful thing the world with all its wonders has known. VVS — see how it drips off the tongue —arrived at the crease in the sixth over, at the fall of the first wicket, with the total on 34.
Consider the background here. His tournament to date? Benched with a stiff knee at Karachi; 4, 3 and 20 in the three innings since. His career average against Pakistan? 7.33, from six matches.
Anything can be charming, don't you think? Krish Srikkanth's flea-bitten twitches, Ijaz Ahmed's moustachioed nods of approval to the bowler. No, VVS does not charm so much as woo. Inevitably, we fall.
VVS is that rare player who is able to create a mood around his work. Suddenly everything becomes worth smiling at. Them-days-were-the-days greybeards are moved to nostalgia. There is nothing technical in this nostalgia. It is in fact not nostalgia. It is only mood.
A curl of the arm, a flick of the wrist, a twirl of the blade, and we watch through tints of rose. There is no muscle in the art of VVS, no malice, no meanness. It is non-confrontational, innocent, lovely.
Or put it this way: strip away the context, strip away the circumstances, strip away the competition and all the rest of the stuff that really make sport . . . strip it, strip it, strip it down to a man and a stick and nothing more and the art of VVS barely resonates any less. How many like him? Beyond this I cannot articulate the mood. But it was there at the Gaddafi.
VVS was 62, and the total 171, when Sourav Ganguly fell, for 45. VVS had, unusually, only six boundaries in this time, each one luscious. Yet he had paced himself at about a run-a-ball. By playing so, he brought to mind his childhood idol, Mohammad Azharuddin.
From 76 to 84 he moved with a painted cover drive and a late dab off Pakistan's best bowler on the night, Sami. Because of his range of ticks and flicks and swirls and glances, it is sometimes easy to forget just how accomplished he is on the off side.
From 95, VVS went to 99 with a glide off Shoaib Malik. It was a full-pitched ball, and he considered the drive before allowing it to slide off the face. There was an ooh in the press box, whose glass partition had turned a distinct rose.
Then with a pat down the ground off the next ball, his ninety-eighth of the afternoon, VVS reached hundred. He took off his helmet and raised his arms, but without fuss.
With five overs to go, VVS felt it his duty to slog. These were slogs of compulsion. They were not VVS. In regular cricketers such things may suggest spunk, but with VVS they were blots, acts of corruption. But the compromise needed to be made. Better to slog than be dropped for the World Cup.
He danced down and tried to swat Malik over the top. It took the edge and went for four. He tried it again the next ball. He missed it altogether. He went for it a third time. It steepled high off the leading edge and into the hands of Sami at cover.
He ambled off, loose-limbed, shadow-practising purer responses. Gaddafi to a man rose in applause. (An edited extract from Pundits From Pakistan, published by Penguin)