A toast to Very Very Special Laxman
Monday's was a classic Laxman performance - the "stylist in strife" , as one commentator once called him, and match winner extraordinaire carrying off his job with customary aplomb.
He walks in with a runner, his back sore and wracked with spasms. Half his side is gone for 76 runs, chasing a target of 216 on a decaying track against a gritty, if unspectacular, Australian attack. Defiant, sinuous and brisk in his strokeplay, he keeps putting the runs on the board, losing partners quickly before he finds an unusually responsible batsman in bowler Ishant Sharma. He stays unbeaten with 73 and takes India over the line. And when one of the most closely fought games in Test cricket ends, he walks back with a big, disarming smile, as he often does after fetching India an impossible victory. It is no big deal.
Laxman belongs to what is popularly called the Fab Four of Indian cricket. If the genius of Sachin Tendulkar is its Paul McCartney, the iconoclasm and flamboyance of - the now retired - Saurav Ganguly its John Lennon. If the maestro of the backbeat, Rahul Dravid, is its Ringo Starr, then VVS must be its George Harrison, weaving some wondrous and beautiful innings that have held together some of India's best performances and his own.
Laxman is a cricketer's cricketer in many ways, and one of the greatest ever. Remember, he has an exalted place on Wisden's Top Ten batting performances of all time for his epic 281 against Australia in 2001, an innings of Cecil DeMille proportions against the strongest side in the world in the most adverse of circumstances. In that list, he is in the company of people like Donald Bradman and Brian Lara.
At his sublime best, says my friend and cricket journalist Sambit Bal, Laxman is a sight for gods. He is the sultan of silken stroke-play, a wristy batsman like no other. With VVS in full flow, the game reaches its glorious apogee. His performances move the severest commentators to poetry - a delirious Peter Roebuck once described a Laxman double hundred - against Australia, who else? - as a "glass of beer taken as the sun set across a pleasing landscape". In an age of fast-food cricket, Laxman is an elegant anachronism. A very very special one.