V.V.S.Laxman, who bid goodbye to international cricket in August 2012, five months after Rahul Dravid decided to retire, spoke to The Telegraph at the JW Marriott in Chandigarh the other evening.
Q You quit playing for India 13 months ago. How has this period been?
A It has gone well... I get more time with the family and, so, that has been the biggest change. I’ve managed to do different things, which has been a good experience... I did TV commentary during the Australia series in February-March and am mentoring the Sunrisers Hyderabad now. I’ve also given motivational talks.
Motivational talks sounds interesting...
I dwell on the situations I found myself in and how I responded to those situations, on the field... I’ve talked about my thought process... Of the importance of handling success and failure equally. The response has been pleasing... In fact, I’ve been amazed by just how much the audience knows... Facts, figures... They know everything.
Like your former captain Sourav Ganguly, you want to set up a school, isn’t it?
That’s the plan... A junior and middle-level school in the heart of Hyderabad and a high school-cum-sports academy on the outskirts.
What has drawn you to education?
I’ve always been passionate about education, for it’s such an essential part of one’s life. Quality education prepares you for the challenges. My schools will encourage the all-round development of students, not make them into bookworms. The future of India depends on the education the children get.
So, your second innings, so to say, will see you as an educationist...
(Laughs) In my cricket career, I was seen as a second-innings player. Hopefully, I’ll be as successful in this second innings too!
But haven’t you missed playing cricket at some point in these 13 months?
During the recent Ashes, I did get the urge to again be out in my whites... But, looking back, I think I took the right decision at the right time. I had to move on and I have, but I haven’t severed ties with the game. Once a cricketer, always a cricketer.
Your thoughts on India’s performances over the past 13 months...
We lost the Test series to England, which was very disappointing, but look at the results after that... (Mahendra Singh) Dhoni and the boys have done an excellent job, both in Tests and ODIs. Only teams with character are able to quickly bounce back, so top marks to India.
What stood out? The 4-0 thrashing of Australia in the Test series?
That and the Champions Trophy win, where we remained unbeaten... It was fantastic. On an individual level, we’ve thrown up match-winners, which is what teams want... Shikhar Dhawan, Virat Kohli, Cheteshwar Pujara, Ravindra Jadeja. They’ve made such an impact and we’ve played as a team.
Going forward, what’s the challenge?
To play well overseas... After the two Tests against the West Indies, the next three Test series’ will be overseas — in South Africa, New Zealand, England... It’s going to be a challenging period. At the same time, it will be a learning experience for the younger players. From experience, I can definitely say that tours help a cricketer understand his game better.
You were one of those who stood by Dhoni when many in the country were gunning for him...
That’s because I’ve seen him from such close quarters and know what he’s made of... Only a few can handle wins and defeats with equanimity. Dhoni is one of them... He’s justified the faith the selectors had in him... Look at the results this year.
Are we, Indians, extremely emotional in the way we respond?
I won’t blame the people for getting emotional, for we’d lost eight Tests in a row overseas and, then, came the loss to England. However, Dhoni was and is the best to take Indian cricket forward. When the team is in a stage of transition, it’s important to have a captain with character.
In the past 13 months, what has been the biggest gain for India — Virat’s maturity or Jadeja’s emergence as a front line spinner?
I wouldn’t like to single out any player... The hunger among the youngsters has been noticeable. They’ve grabbed the chances and made their presence felt. It’s very heartening.
Virat has also made a mark as a stand-in captain...
Indeed, Virat’s leadership skills have been there from the time he led India to the U-19 World Cup win (in 2007-08)... With time, he’s matured... He’s taken the responsibility of winning matches on himself, which is laudable. Virat’s a tremendous talent.
Will it be tough for Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir to make a comeback?
I wouldn’t say so. Viru, Gauti, Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh... All have a lot left to contribute to Indian cricket. They’ve been match-winners and are determined to make a return. It’s nice to have an environment where there’s healthy competition.
You must be happy that the Board has slotted a series against the West Indies, giving Sachin Tendulkar the opportunity to play his 200th Test at home...
Sachin’s 200th Test, in Mumbai, would be the icing on the cake for the champion... What better than to play in such a landmark Test at home... It will be an occasion not just for him, but all of India... To be on the threshold of 200 Tests is mind-boggling... Only Sachin could have got to where he has (198 Tests). I can’t imagine anybody else getting even close to such a milestone.
[Among contemporaries, Jacques Kallis is the ‘closest’ — 162 Tests.]
But won’t Sachin be under more pressure, assuming that his 200th Test is in Mumbai?
(Laughs) Sachin knows how to handle pressure... He’s been handling it for 24 years! Expectations don’t sit heavy on Sachin’s shoulders... I don’t think the word ‘pressure’ exists in his dictionary.
Ravi Shastri is convinced Sachin would be there on India’s tour of England next summer. Your take?
From what I know of Sachin, he continues to enjoy the game. Even I believe he’ll be there at Lord’s next year... He’s in the best position to decide what’s best for him and for India. I haven’t seen him put self ahead of the country. I remember having listened to my inner voice and I don’t regret it.
You’ll be 40 next year. Is it just a number?
It depends on what an individual wants at that age. It depends on his drive, the motivation he has. Passion comes into play... As long as the sportsman is performing, 40 is no more than a number.
Without going into specifics, what’s your reaction to a one-time teammate, Sreesanth, being banned for life for spot-fixing?
One feels sad... Cricketers are supposed to take pride in representing their country or state or franchise... However, everybody’s integrity shouldn’t be questioned because of the misdeeds of a few. The entire fraternity must not be painted with the same brush... It’s with the blessings of God that one gets an opportunity to play at the highest level, especially in our country, and this should not be abused.
Could we see you as a cricket administrator at some stage?
The final one... What’s special about the air around Hyderabad? It’s regularly producing champion shuttlers...
Credit to Pullela Gopichand and his academy... It has made a huge difference. The national camps are held in his academy and that’s wonderful for the trainees. They get to rub shoulders with the best. Then, Saina (Nehwal) is such a fine role model.