In his book Beyond the Blues, Aakash Chopra talks of how he was given the job of playing foil to Virender Sehwag; of how the team defined his job description as being the methodical counterpoint to Virender Sehwag’s madness. And of his confusion when, having done that job to the best of his ability, he was cut loose after a couple of failures on the grounds that he was too ‘slow’.
Now, here’s VVS Laxman:
Your early Test career started as an opening batsman – do you have regrets that you could have established yourself much earlier in your favoured middle-order position or were you just pleased to be picked anywhere at that stage?
Actually I started off my [Test] career as a middle-order batsman because I got my first opportunity to bat at No. 6 when Sourav [Ganguly] was injured. So the first four Tests I played were in the middle order at No. 6 or 7. But the middle order was very packed with experienced players in Sachin [Tendulkar] and [Mohammad] Azharuddin and then you had Rahul [Dravid] and Sourav who had done well in the matches they’d played. So I got an opportunity as an opening batsman and took it as a challenge because right from my childhood I’d always been taught that you have to do whatever the team requires. I thought, “The team requires me to open and I’ve got an opportunity to play for my country,” which is a dream for all of us, so I took it up as a challenge.
It was a tough phase for me – the first four years from 1996 to almost 2000. Not because of the cricket but it was just that I used to get runs, then two or three failures, and then people used to brand me as a non-regular opener. It really hurt me because I was trying my best to do well for the country as an opener, even though it didn’t come naturally. That was when I decided that I would not open anymore for the team because the ultimate aim is to score consistently, and to do that you have to be a regular member of the side. I decided that the best chance for me to do well for the country was in the middle order, so I took that decision, and luckily for me, once I took that decision, I got a lot of runs in first-class cricket. I got 10 or 11 hundreds on the trot, and I then got my chance in the middle order [for India] and I grasped it.
When you made the decision not to open anymore did you accept you might not get an opportunity for India again, or at least for a long time, if the players in the side all scored consistently?
Absolutely. That was a factor that was definitely there in my mind. But the decision was taken after the South Africa Test match in Bombay when I was dropped. In the previous Test in Sydney against Australia I got 167. After the next Test – I didn’t get many – I was left out of the side and that’s when I decided. Luckily for me, my coaches and my uncle helped me in making the decision because I was not enjoying what I was doing. You want to be a regular member of the squad. It really is disappointing and discouraging when you are dropped frequently and then again being branded as a non-regular opener. It was a tough call because there was a risk that I wouldn’t get an[other] opportunity.
And I remember once I made the decision, Sourav was the captain and we played a Test match against Bangladesh in 2000. We played with five bowlers and Sourav asked me to open, because he wanted me to play in the XI, but I told him that I wasn’t keen to open, so I was dropped for that Test match and also two Tests against Zimbabwe. But I stuck to my decision because of what had happened over the first four years [of my international career]. By God’s grace everything went well with me getting consecutive hundreds [at first-class level] and then getting an opportunity in the middle order and then establishing myself.