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December 04, 1999


The Rediff Interview/ V V S Laxman

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'I blame myself for being dropped, I wasn't consistent'

Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman -- quite a mouthful, but then, not too many people call him anything other than VVS or Laxman -- was the surprise package for the Indians in the opening game of the Australian tour, against the Queensland Bulls.

VVS Laxman While the rest of the batting wore a decidedly brittle look -- with the possible exception of Sachin Tendulkar in the first innings -- it was Laxman who impressed, with an assured century in the first innings, and another composed innings in the second.

Taken into the touring party as spare-wheel opener, Laxman has suddenly given the management a few extra options -- and headaches. For on his showing thus far, it is he who deserves to get the opening slot ahead of Devang Gandhi.

Faisal Shariff met the stylish middle order batsman-turned-opener in Mumbai, on the morning prior to the team's departure for Australia. Excerpts, from their conversation:

You are back, as opener. But by training, aptitude and past record at the domestic level, you have made your bones as a stylish, stroke-playing middle-order batsman. How do you feel about opening? Does it bother you that you are not being considered for the middle order?

Actually, I went in, in the middle, in only four of my fourteen Tests so far, on the other ten occasions I have opened. After the South African tour, I was picked for the West Indies tour as an opener. So, in fact, I expected that I would be picked as third opener for this tour, and was mentally quite prepared for it.

But what is your preference? Where would you feel most at home, given the option of choosing your own slot?

As an upcoming youngster, I always used to bat middle order. But then, what I always maintained was that wherever the team required me, I would render my services, be it middle order or be it as an opening batsman.

You must have given some thought to the Australian tour, what is your assessment?

Laxman Obviously its going to be a real great challenge, because we are playing the Australian side on their home soil, and it is really going to be a tough task for the entire team. Because, obviously, they have got the home advantage and they are a real competitive side. So, obviously, there is a lot of responsibility on all of us to do well there. The first and basic thing is we have to get adapted to the situation and the conditions as soon as possible, and that's the key here.

Take us back a bit, and tell us how you got started in the game?

I always used to play cricket near my house, and then in school, and when I was in the seventh class I joined St. John's coaching camp. And that's where I realized that there was something like state cricket and zone cricket, that's how I really got involved in it. My coaches, especially, my uncle Baba Krishna Mohan, spotted some talent in me and it was my uncle in fact who groomed me.

Since the age of 16, I played for Hyderabad at various age levels, Under-16, Under-19, U-23, junior state and ultimately got selected for the Hyderabad Ranji Trophy squad. That's how I got started.

You mentioned your uncle, so was the family connection with cricket what induced you to take to the game?

Both my parents are doctors, so obviously the emphasis was on academics -- but they always gave me total freedom and independence. As a youngster I used to play a lot of sports, badminton, cricket and table tennis. And my parents never restricted me from all this, they always maintained that whatever profession I take up, I should do justice to it, that's all. So their philosophy was, play while you play, study while you study. The major influence was my uncle -- he was the one who reinforced in me the idea that I could play competitive cricket, because I always wanted to become a doctor. My first aim was to become a doctor, but then I got so many breaks at the right age that in time, cricket became the paramount thing in my life.

How was it like, playing for Hyderabad alongside Azhar?

When I was playing under sixteen, that was the time when I first met Azhar. Meeting him and seeing him from up close was a real great experience, a great thrill for me. Since my Ranji Trophy days, I have been so close to him and he has always influenced me. And the association has been a great benefit for me.

In what way has he influenced you, can you give me an example?

Azharuddin His presence in the dressing room is itself a big thing, any international cricketer's presence is felt in the dressing room. And then, just by watching him play, you can learn a lot. Even the Bombay players will be really thrilled when they have Sachin around, because just by watching him play they can learn so many things. That's how I picked up some important things about international cricket, from Azhar.

Your batting style seems to be modelled on his...

No, I don't think so. I know people compare us, but his style is totally different from mine. It may be that two or three shots I play resemble something he does, but otherwise, right from stance to the way we play, our game is totally different from each other's.

To get back to the tour coming up, what is the key to succeeding there?

First of all it's how you play the new ball. That is the key, because I believe that if the team has to do well in Australia, the opening stand is going to be very crucial. If you can see off the session from start of play to lunch, then the later order batsmen can play comfortably. So I feel that is a very important aspect, which we have to really think about, this thing of seeing the shine off without losing too many wickets. And, like I told you, the key is how quickly you adapt, since it is obviously going to be different conditions to what we are used to at home. And also, to succeed in Australia, you have to play positive cricket, you can't go on the defensive there.

Your career has been a bit of an up and down thing -- dropped, then picked again. Does this bring pressure? Do you have this feeling of being always on trial?

No, I don't think this has really affected me, because I knew that if I did well, I would be in the team. So I should accept that I was not doing consistently well for the side. I got five fifties in thirteen Test matches I played in. I know I should have converted at least two of them into big hundreds -- like when I got 95 in Calcutta against Australia, that should have become a big hundred, and similarly the 67 against Pakistan, I got out when I was dominating their attack. I think I should blame myself for being dropped, I wasn't consistent enough.

What about the one-day team? You are always considered a Test player, is it really different playing the shorter game?

It depends on what conditions you come from. I always feel that I am a natural stroke-player, that's what I have been right from my childhood. So I had no problem as such adapting to both versions of the game. So I just have to get the right opportunity to prove myself.

How is the team morale going in to this tough tour?

This is a young and talented side, and everyone is keen on winning a Test on foreign soil, which is something we haven't done in a long time. So, yeah, we are keyed up to try and do that.

Why do you reckon we haven't won abroad?

It's very unfortunate, I would say, because we had two or three opportunities. For instance, when I was part of the team, we had a great chance in Barbados, when we needed only 121 to win, and yet we lost.

What happened there?

The wicket, one side of the wicket, was really horrible. There was a spot near the good length area, which was very dangerous, and they totally exploited that.

But didn't they also bat under the same circumstances?

Laxman Yes, and if you remember, in their second innings we got them out for 90-odd, they had a lead of 30 on the first innings, which is why our target was 121. We were expected to get that, but unfortunately Ambrose bowled really well. I think that was a big disappointment. And then, when we were playing against South Africa in Johannesburg, we were again on the verge of winning, but unfortunately it rained very heavily. We have come close to winning Tests, but luck hasn't been on our side. Hopefully, that will change, we will do our best to win in Australia.

You've played in South Africa, do you think that experience -- on fast pitches against good quick bowlers -- will help when you go Down Under?

Yes, definitely, playing international cricket on any foreign soil is a great experience. The conditions in SA are not quite similar to what we are going to get in Australia, but the experience should still stand us in good stead.

What do you do besides cricket? What are your other interests?

I am employed with Indian Airlines. So I go to the office. As for interests, I like listening to music, classical or Hindi film songs. I love listening to songs sung by Kishore Kumar, Phil Collins. I read a lot, autobiographies of cricketers especially. Right now, I am reading a book written by Phil Jackson, he is coach of the Chicago Bulls. I like reading about sportspersons, how they motivate themselves in their careers. It is interesting to know that great personalities also had their ups and downs.


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