Laxman spent hours practising against spin bowling
India’s legendary middle order batsman VVS Laxman has revealed that he became a master of playing spin bowling by practising everyday, and not due to the fact that it was a God-given talent.
After encountering problems against spin early on in his career, Laxman learnt to respect the art of spin bowling and spent hours on developing his technique, which enabled him to become a master.
“I never got to play quality spin bowling when I was growing up,” Laxman said in a discussion with Harsha Bhogle and ESPNcricinfo editor Sambit Bal. “As a kid I always enjoyed playing fast bowling. I neglected playing spinners. At the end of the practice session I got extra throw-downs, asking 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 the Ranji Trophy, there were some quality spinners in domestic cricket and I remember I would invariably get out to Sairaj Bahutule (former Mumbai legspinner), playing against the spin and getting caught at midwicket. That’s when I came back to the nets and luckily Hyderabad had some quality spinners like Arshad Ayub, Venkatapathy Raju, Kanwaljit Singh. I practiced hard at the nets against them and I always felt that the hard work you put in the nets will reap results. Within a span of six months to one year I became an excellent player of spin. In domestic cricket we used to get tough wickets, like the one in Chennai for the Test (against Australia), and my confidence grew.”
Laxman’s words of wisdom could be taken into account by all batsmen and teams that struggle to do well in the subcontinent, which is renowned for its spin-friendly pitches.
“You react to the ball that is coming at you,” he said. “If you focus on the guy holding the ball, your thought process changes. You should remove things like the state of the pitch from your thought process and only react to the ball. If you think too much about the wicket, you’re only expecting a certain kind of delivery and in the bargain you lose out on the shot you could have played.”
Laxman believes cricketers nowadays struggle to deal with distractions they may have outside of cricket, while during his days as a youngster, cricket dominated his life day and night.
“It’s not just about distractions,” he added. “It’s the amount of options available to you. For example, when I chose not to become a doctor and chose cricket as my career path, there was nothing in my life except cricket. When my friends went to movies etc, I used to go home, so I could be fresh in the morning for practice. Now, there are so many options. If you are not successful as a cricketer you could be successful in any other field. 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 [these days]. 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.”
Even though Laxman agreed that youngsters need good mentors when they are growing up, he also mentioned that they needed to get their priorities sorted if they were going to choose cricket as their line of work.
“What was the one thing that kept me going? It was the pride of playing for your country,” Laxman said. “That can be ingrained at a young age. [Money] is a danger. For young cricketers, their priorities should be emphasised. They should know that money is a by-product of what you’re trying to achieve. Pride and passion should be the first priority. I have noticed in the same coaching camps I used to attend as a kid, the parents now say ‘I don’t care if my son plays for India or not but I want him to get into one of the IPL franchises.’ There has to be a balance. That will happen in the ages of 16-19. The coaches at camps like at the NCA have to address the issue.”
However, Laxman also pointed out that youngsters should be coached with care and told when they are making a technical mistake in order to take their game to the next level.
“After my retirement my son suddenly became interested in the game, I don’t know why,” Laxman said. “I just tell him to hit the ball. My nephew goes to a coaching camp and one day I was playing with the two of them. It was strange. My son was only hitting the ball without bothering about his head position etc, but my nephew would come to me as ask, ‘uncle, how is my elbow position?’ They are just aged 6 and 7. What structured coaching sometimes does is it removes the natural instincts of a player. Till a cricketer is mature, one should not load too much information on him. I notice spinners are at their best till they are 15, but they vanish. The coaches try to correct them and the player gets confused.”