When the time was off colour, the same VVS Laxman was seen by many as a burden, a burden obstructing the progress of younger players who were waiting in the wings for a chance. Now that the veteran batsman has quit, the same 'many' are appalled and cannot find enough words to hail his greatness. What remains constant in all of this is the fact that his retirement has opened the field for several youngsters to showcase their skill.
There is no questioning the legendary career of Laxman. With close to 9000 runs in Tests and several innings that took India out of murky waters, the 37-year-old was a pillar of strength. Although his place in the cricket hall of fame is richly deserved, it is always heartening to see new players being given a chance to take over. In that sense and in that sense alone, Laxman's decision appears mature, sensible and vital.
A change of guard is an accepted norm in life and more so in the realms of cricket. Bashed from several quarters when form evaded him, Laxman's tale has not been too different from any other. Each time a player has gone through a rough phase, he has found support coming in trickles but criticism in sack-loads. So also is the norm that when a player retires - he is praised beyond limit regardless of all the questions that were raised against him through his bad patch. Ask cricketers though, and most are likely to agree that it is better to not be appreciated for centuries than be ridiculed relentlessly for ducks in return.
And while the world quickly adds the Hyderabad batsman to the long list of illustrious cricketers who have been cordoned off in statistical books, newer players emerge to go through the same drill.
Subramaniam Badrinath is the man who has been chosen to fill the void for now. With just two Tests for the national side, the Tamil Nadu batsman has a long road to trudge upon. He will be tested and he will be questioned. He will be praised and he will be shunned. Unless, of course, he proves himself to be a prodigy, Badrinath will be a marked man for some time to come.
At 31, the task of negotiating his third international Test will not be simple. Time is of essence in a sport where time is never really enough. Veteran skippers, once hailed as national treasures, are sidelined. For Badrinath, it will continue to be a precarious road. Many have trudged on it before and have fallen, some never to have risen again. There were the Mukunds and the Uthappas - some young and others well past their prime. Some continue to harbour dreams while others who have all but given up hope.
Such then, is this unforgiving sport of cricket especially in India where competition is absolutely cut-throat, that veterans as well as newbies are often mercilessly slaughtered. It was perhaps best summed up by Rahul Dravid in an informal interview with a website in January. "I don't like this name (The Wall). It's all fine till such time that I am getting runs. But if I run into bad form, you guys will only start, 'The Wall is cracking', or something like that." Truer words were never spoken in contemporary cricket.
Note: Views expressed here are that of the author and not necessarily of NDTV