Eden Gardens was always `very very special` for VVS Laxman
Kolkata: V.V.S. Laxman`s decision to quit international cricket has created an emptiness at the Eden Gardens - an iconic venue with which the stylish Hyderabadi`s love affair continued for over a decade.
In ten Tests, Laxman amassed 1,217 runs at the ground, including five hundreds and three fifties, and was always a darling of the cricket aficionados here who could never stop loving his wristy strokes.
Laxman has also reciprocated the love, both on and off the field.
His average is an astounding 110.63 which is third in the roll of players with at least 1,000 runs at a particular venue.
The incomparable Don Bradman leads with a figure of 128.53 in Melbourne, followed by fellow Australian Greg Chappell at 111.77 in Brisbane.
"It is a very special ground, definitely a very very special ground. It feels great. I have always enjoyed batting at the Eden Gardens. Not just batting, all the Test matches I have played here, I have really enjoyed playing here," Laxman said after scoring his fifth hundred - an unbeaten 176 - in his 10th Test match at the Eden last November. The sublime knock came in the second cricket Test against the West Indies.
"It`s a great ground with a lot of history. Probably the spectators, even though they were not a lot in this Test match, make it special, the people of Kolkata make it special and it is a special ground for all of us."
Among the Indian players who played at the Eden, the one who is closest to Laxman is former captain and another stylish Hyderabadi Mohd. Azharuddin, whose career ended in controversial circumstances for his alleged involvement in cricket betting.
Azharuddin has also hit five centuries averaging 107.50 at this venue.
Laxman, a touch artist in the Azharuddin mould, conquered the hearts of the spectators here with his epic 281 in the 2001 March Test against Australia, that propelled India to a fairy-tale win from a seemingly hopeless position. The knock has become a part of the cricketing folklore.
"That was his brightest knock. The impact of the innings was not limited to the Test or the series, but it impacted Indian cricket. The Indian team`s graph climbed upward thereafter," said Sourav Ganguly, who led India in that Test.
"That Test gives a lot of inspiration to me and all the guys who were involved in that game," Laxman had said years after the historic match.
An authoritative innings of 154 not out against the Carl Hooper-led West Indies the very next year and another unconquered 112 opposite arch-rivals Pakistan in 2007, made Laxman a favourite of the passionate Eden crowd. Last but not the least, he made an unbeaten 143 against South Africa in 2010 that enabled India to canter to an innings victory and retain their place as the world`s top Test team.
But before all these heroics, the gentleman-cricketer had a heartbreak of sorts against Mark Taylor`s team in 1998, when he perished behind the wicket only five runs short of a well-deserved hundred.
Cricket Association of Bengal president Jagmohan Dalmiya said his exit will leave a great void at the Eden. "He played some of his best innings here, and the discerning Eden spectators also were very fond of him. His innings of 281 will remain etched in the memory of all those who watched the match."