Even as the ongoing India-Australia Test series draws the attention of cricket fans from across the world, nobody can forget the summer of March 2001, when India played against Australia at Eden Gardens in Kolkata. The formidable partnership between VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid set a record of 376 runs, with 281 to the credit of VVS. And it was this game-changing score that helped India win the second test match in that series.
So, it doesn’t come as a surprise that VVS has opted to title his autobiography after his record-breaking score, 281 and Beyond, the story about the cricketer, that memorable score and his life beyond the field. Co-written with R Kaushik, the book is neither a controversial account, nor does it present the cricketer as a demigod. Instead, it presents a bare-bones account of a middle-class boy who aspired to be a doctor but followed his destiny by becoming a cricketer.
But why was it important for him to chronicle his journey? VVS explains, “Because it is the journey of a common Indian. It wasn’t only about someone who played the game at the highest level. It was also the story of a young Indian who decided to pursue cricket during the 1990s, when it was still an amateur sport.
It was a tough phase for all of us, including my parents, who had given me a deadline of five years to prove myself. If I didn’t make it to the Indian cricket team within the set time, I would have had to quit and appear for the medical entrance exam again.” But it was only two years ago that the cricketer decided to write this book, when an elderly gent walked up to him after a talk at an MNC in Goa. “He asked me to write my story, saying it would inspire his son and grandson,” recalls the cricketer.
The long-innings formula
VVS was always a perseverant science student, a quality that reflected in his game. Despite being dropped from the national team time and again, he never gave up. His aggregate of more than 8,000 runs in over a 100 test matches stands as testimony to that undying spirit.
In fact, even in the first chapter of his book, the cricketer vividly describes the test match in which he scored 281. He was moved up to the batting position of No.3. He wasn’t in great form, and this wasn’t his batting position for Team India, even though he always batted at No.3 for Hyderabad during Ranji Trophy matches. “I’d be lying if I said I saw the 281 coming. I was not even going to play the Test match because of the back problem I had, there was no chance,” reveals the cricketer.
“I was about 60-65% in form for the series. However, the season leading to the Test series was a successful one for me on the domestic front, as I got a triple hundred against Karnataka. So I knew the formula of how to get big scores and play long innings. I applied this formula. It was a great learning experience for me and the team,” he says.
Another interesting fact that the cricketer hasn’t mentioned in his autobiography, but recollects when asked, is that the bat with which he made this historic score didn’t belong to him. “The bat actually belonged to Robin Singh who gave it to Venkatpathy Raju, and I took the bat from him for those innings,” he confirms.
Keep calm, play on
Despite scoring big and being one of the most dependable and consistent players in Indian cricket, VVS’ career graph has been erratic. There were situations when he was dropped from the squad, and mostly played in the lower middle order. “There were three to four periods in my career when cricket had become a burden,” confesses the batsman.
VVS had almost given up cricket, but fortunately, there was a gap of five months between the World Cup and the next international series. When he took a break of about a month-and-a-half to spend time in the US with friends, that’s when he realised he was missing something. “I started missing hitting the cricket ball,” he reveals. In his book, the sportsman mentions these tough periods candidly in the chapter, Of Laughter and Loneliness.
Read, read, repeat
Another significant thing that is evident from VVS’ book is that he is a man of different interests. While cricket is his passion, the sportsman is also a voracious reader who also enjoys watching films and listening to music.
He recommends Tony Robbins’ Awaken the Giant Within, a motivational title, and he also mentions how he finds the Sai Satcharita (the life story of Shirdi Sai Baba) quite helpful.
“I love reading. Right now, I’m reading Robin Sharma’s Who Will Cry When You Die. It’s a simple read. My wife had the book, so I just picked it up and I’m enjoying it. Books widen your perspective and make you a better person,” says VVS.
Also a film buff and music lover, VVS’ favourite actors include Amitabh Bachchan, Sridevi and Kishore Kumar. When asked which song personifies his life, he relates, “For cricketers and sportspersons, there is a shelf-life. However great or famous you are, you will end the game. There is a song from the film Kabhi Kabhie that is filmed on Amitabh, Main Pal Do Pal Ka Shayar Hoon — this song sums up my career.”
Personal best: My score of 167 (from the third test of India tour of Australia in 2000) is very close to me, because that was my first 100. It gave me the confidence that I can play at the highest level.
On retirement: When I retired, I felt content that I gave my best on every day of my cricketing career.
Australia, a favourite: The type of cricket that Aussies played pushed me to deliver my best. Every ball was a challenge because they were confident, aggressive and their style of game suited my style. The more aggressive the bowler was, the better I delivered.
On social media pressure: While you want to please everyone, everyone can’t be pleased. You need to do your best in line with the team’s expectations, and not get bothered with what people are talking about you.
As an Indian cricketer, you need to learn to zone off at times.