Barely six months after announcing his retirement from international cricket, VVS Laxman has slipped into his new media role with great elan. Laxman has always been at ease speaking in public, his naturally disarming manner and a quick smile serving as huge assets.
His television debut as commentator during the Chennai Test was generally well received, and Laxman showed how much more confident and comfortable he is talking about himself and the game he served with great distinction for so long, at a feel-good evening of anecdotes and laughs on Friday (March 1).
The occasion was the launch of 'Talking Cricket', a compilation of 22 long-form interviews published by ESPNcricinfo, and Laxman was at his eloquent best, prodded along by Harsha Bhogle and Sambit Bal, as he totally charmed an audience that also included Sanjay Manjrekar. Laxman spoke of the importance of ensuring that youngsters of today keep their focus and equanimity, given the various distractions available now compared to when he was starting out. "It's not just about distractions. It's the amount of options available to you," he pointed out. "When I chose not to become a doctor and chose cricket as my career path, there was nothing in my life except cricket.
"Now, there are so many options. That is why, now it is very important how you communicate with the youngsters. You cannot be negative with them. You have to be positive so that their interest in the game always remains. There is so much of fame, adulation, scrutiny, and money. It is very important for any young cricketer to be as balanced as possible. It is very difficult to do so and I feel for them."
Laxman said it was essential that in their formative years, the youngsters be made to understand their priorities. "What was the one thing that kept me going? It was the pride of playing for your country," said Laxman. "That can be ingrained at a young age. Money is a danger. Young cricketers should know that money is a by-product of what you're trying to achieve. Pride and passion should be the first priority, and that can be ingrained at the Under-16 and Under-19 levels. Coaches at the NCA (National Cricket Academy) too have to address the issue."
Laxman dwelt at length on how, from not being a very good player of spin bowling in his early days, he went on to become an "excellent" player of the turning ball. "I never got to play quality spin bowling when I was growing up," recollected Laxman. "As a kid, I always enjoyed playing fast bowling because I played much of my early cricket on matting. I neglected playing spinners. At the end of the practice session, I asked the coaches to throw from ten yards so I could play quicker bowling. I used to practice on cement wickets using a plastic ball or a wet tennis ball.
"When I started playing Ranji Trophy, there were some quality spinners in domestic cricket. I remember I would invariably get out to Sairaj Bahutule (the former Mumbai and India leggie), playing against the spin and getting caught at midwicket. Luckily, Hyderabad had quality spinners like Arshad Ayub, Venkatapathi Raju and Kanwaljit Singh, among others. I practiced hard at the nets against them. I always felt that the hard work you put in the nets will reap results. Within one year, I became an excellent player of spin."
Laxman also threw his weight behind Mahendra Singh Dhoni: "Dhoni is a fantastic player and I believe he is the best person to lead the Indian team."