Monday, November 08, 2010

Salut Laxman

The old phrase - we don't know when to start, we don't know when to quit. Most cricketers retire horribly. Denial of course is one of the foremost reasons... but I do not intend to discuss that.

This is the last stage of cricket that I am probably following. I do not enjoy organised sports on television at all anymore and much of the cricket that I follow is to do with the lot I literally grew up with. I have a very vivid memory of the news headline which announced the inclusion of sixteen-year old Sachin in national squad and see him speak for the first time, gauche and with that horrible fuzz on the lips that is the bane of male adolescence, in a brief clip. 

Sachin is, of course, having the most glorious run right now and we can assume that this is the beginning of the end. A run denied to the other greats who have, in brief patches of the "golden age of Indian cricket", even eclipsed him - Dravid, Kumble, Ganguly. A little of this is the timing of the lady luck also though everything goes to the man. During the last stint of his career, the great Kapil out swinger just never came. A year (or a couple) down the line, in an exhibition match I remember seeing him swinging it by a yard. If only, it had come to him back a year ago.

 Which bring me to records, something he is shattering seemingly for eternity or as far ahead we can envision it with current stock of cricketers.
There is nothing I know of Hammond and Hobbs other than their records. The little of Bradman that I know beyond his records is from the Bodyline series. In cricket, a seventy in time can be more vital than a double century (or even Gooch's horrible triple ton) when everything is on song... a five wicket haul depend on a wicketless, but more importantly, runless spell from the other end... but all this sadly gets lost in the dust of re-laid pitches year over year. All that survives is records.

I belong to the old school which judges the five-day format as the true test of cricket. In that sense, I feel that the one cricketer who has really come on his own in this year - a genius of the golden generation who never quite rose to the rank of the fab four - is Laxman. Sri Lanka, Australia, New Zealand.  

There are Sachin detractors and apologists - most of it is unfair. The one reason why there are endless debates on the "truly" greatest someone of all time is that greatness comes in flavors. Who we ultimately pick from a pool who have achieved greatness in different forms (some like Sachin straddling more than one form)  is ultimately which single definition we want to strain all these forms in. 

Sachin is one of the greatest in many senses, but he is not god.  There are no gods and whom we call gods are those we revere bribe and feat but not exactly.... like. Every tale of a hero, needs a tragedy. Like superheroes, our heroes need a fatal flaw to be human to us. Sachin is perhaps the all-time greatest as far as records and consistency go but there will always be space at the top for the Laras who might have not been as consistent but who batted for a third-rate team and singlehandedly carved some of the greatest innings ever; for Bradman who batted without protective gears and in an era of different sensibility; for Gavaskar who came when there was no Gavaskar before him and a few others.

Laxman's career, like that other hyderabadi great, has been chequered. He has half the centuries Dravid has and a third of Sachin's. But Laxman as the man who came good when it really mattered and clinched tests for India, consistently, needs no apologists now.  To paraphrase Sambit Bal, he created symphonies, again and again, when sirens went all around. His fatal flaw – that weak bat dangling four feet from the body when the sirens haven't sounded yet.

The fact that Laxman was denied a century today does not matter. As I said, he will end up having a third of Sachin's centuries and his greatness never be attested on that basis. But with this year, for me, he would be at par with Sachin (and Dravid) as the greatest test batsmen of this golden generation. 

There are things which can never be captured in records. 

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