Often, to determine the degree of dependability of a batsman, the question is floated in cricket loving circles : Who would you choose to bat for your life? While India battled for survival on the final day in Mohali and then did the unthinkable at the death, I pondered about the same.
If really faced with such a morbid evetuality, who would you ask to put on the pads and go out to protect the wicket that is slotted to be the very last? Who would you choose, assuming that Don Bradman is elevated to the level of Gods, someone who is beyond the realms or prayers of the mortal finite?
Rahul Dravid? One who would create that impregnable Wall around you, to refuse a crack or crevice for the hatchet of Charon to scythe your life away? Or would it be Sunil Gavaskar, who would put his head down with infinite concentration, prompting Lord Realtor to a new calypso – ‘the real master, just like a wall, death couldn’t out him at all’?
Many would probably prefer Geoff Boycott or Steve Waugh, stalwarts who would not only put a price tag on their wicket but also install a bar code enabled checkout counter at the pitch and tag sensors at the gate of the pavilion.
It is one of the quirks of the game that the choice in this category is never attacking strokemakers. Would you call upon a Virender Sehwag or a Vivian Richards to scare the daylights out of the messenger of mortality, to have even death running for life, bestowing on you the gift of eternal youth? No, you would much rather prefer the dour and defensive Geoff Boycott, although he averages about seven runs less than the Nawab of Najafgarh. Steve Waugh comes across the crisis man ahead of Sachin Tendulkar in so many minds, but the Aussie maestro has no hundred and 2 fifties in the fourth innings in contrast to the 3 centuries and 4 half centuries of the little champion. When the stakes are as high as death, perceptions take root. Rationality has seldom been the forte of the cricket fan. With the end in sight, the remnants of reason go out of the window.
However, while VVS was on his way to magical magnificence in Mohali, I reached one unalterable personal decision. If ever faced with this fatal choice of the willow wielder, I would pick Laxman every time.
I am not drunk in the intoxication of his fluid strokeplay as I say this. Actually, that’s a lie. I confess that I am still heady from the exhileration, but not to the extent that statistical reason disappears from my mind, yielding to a preference of passion.
I will be rational enough to pick the risk evading Kallis over the more gifted, but temperamental Gary Sobers for this monumental batting order. I would opt for the immovability of Bill Lawrie ahead of the combination of Caribbean flair and English defence of Gordon Greenidge.
Geoff Boycott? No, way. Even if he kept the reaper at bay by clinging on to his wicket with a dead bat, I could be under the considerable danger of being bored to death just by witnessing the spectacle.
But Laxman! With the stakes so high, he would be bound to elevate himself to his sublime best, the peak of his poetic powers from where it would take nothing but a miracle to dislodge him. And even if he did lose his wicket, and thereby I my life, my last moments would be filled with the visual delights of VVS Laxman’s wristy magic in the face of peril, the aural allure of the willow striking the leather at the sweetest moment, the ball never forced to the outfield, but persuaded along the way by his charm – sensual feast delightful enough to allow me to die with a smile on my satisfied lips.