Can there be any other explanation for his presence in modern-day cricket? He really is a player from a bygone era when scoring runs was meant to be done with panache and running between the wickets was a chore. You could say Michael Vaughan and Damien Martyn might have also been time travellers, but both gave away their disguise by being decent runners. VVS, meanwhile, continued to play those ridiculously wristy drives and flicks that must come with a statutory warning. With Dravid's fielding fading he has also been India's best slip fielder for the past decade.
And yet he never gets the recognition from those outside the team. Sehwag is the marauder, Dravid is/was the wall, Tendulkar is God, Ganguly was the leader, Kumble was the workhorse. It was only the mighty Aussies who recognised his brilliance and adorning him with the name Very Very Special Laxman. Maybe the difficulty with pronouncing Vangipurappu Venkata Sai Laxman had something to do with it, but we will give the Aussies the benefit of the doubt here.
Cricinfo has been running a segment on the All-Time XIs for test-playing nations and presently they're inviting readers to pick the All-Time Indian XI. The top pretty much pick themselves and this leaves room for just one middle order batsman. I'm reasonably sure readers will pick Laxman over others but I have a sneaking feeling that the cricinfo panel will go for either Gundappa Vishwanath or Mohammad Azharuddin.
Perhaps it's because Laxman doesn't have what people refer to as matchwinning innings. Today's hundred was Laxman's sixth in a winning cause. In the last 14 years Dravid has 12, Tendulkar 16, Sehwag 7. What goes unnoticed, however, is the number of fifties he's scored in matches India has won. Laxman has the highest percentage of 50+ scores among all Indians in matches won during this period.
Perhaps the fate of his international career was written in his debut test. Laxman came in at number 6 with India just 61 runs ahead in the second innings. 13-year old me with my three friends had lost all hope alongwith the Ahmedabad crowd which disrupted the game by throwing missiles onto the field. We left after India lost the sixth wicket. Laxman, however, battled on with Kumble and was the 8th man out, scoring 51 of the 98 runs India scored while he was at the crease. It seemed like a testing but gettable target before Srinath bowled the spell of his career and blew the South Africans away with 6/21. He was deservedly named Man of the Match but VVS on debut had made it possible by playing the kind of innings he would turn in regularly over the next 14 years. To put his effort into perspective, he was only one of two batsmen to post a fifty-plus score in the whole match.
Most people will remember Laxman for his brilliant innings against the Australians, but the hallmark of his career has been his fighting fifties in low scoring games, especially away from home. His efforts at The Wanderes and The WACA are footnotes in the stories of those tests, as are his efforts in steadying the team after collapses at Lord's and The Oval. But it is hard to imagine the team pulling off those results without VVS Laxman.
It is only a matter of time before Laxman declares his international innings. When he does, India will miss the man who for years has been The Stockade behind The Wall. Good thing then that he scored an invaluable century in the fourth innings at the P Sara Oval to help square the series. It should keep the century mongers off his back while he goes about his business until he decides to call time.