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Caught off field

Outside cricket, V.V.S. Laxman is the quintessential laid-back Hyderabadi - enjoying a burger at King and Cardinal and spending time with old friends.

Photos: K. Ramesh Babu

SIMPLY THE BEST: V.V.S Laxman enjoys a burger at King and Cardinal.

A HIATUS from the humdrum of international cricket hasn't changed his Caribbean outlook on life. He tries to keep pace with Hyderabad's hi-tech avatar as he rips down its roads.

The navy-blue Honda City noses its way through the twists and turns of one-ways, as smoothly as his on-drives skim grass separating mid-on and mid-wicket. Snazzy sunglasses shut out the sun's glare, while earphones pipe in music from the car's Sony mini-disc player.Once out of the vehicle, V.V.S Laxman is the vintage Hyderabadi, relaxed and laid-back.

Slipping into local lingo, there's much banter and backslapping on spotting south zone speedster and Hyderabad teammate, N.P. Singh. On this particular evening, Laxman is visiting King and Cardinal, a popular eatery in Himayatnagar.

The burgers here beat the best of McDonalds, Burger King and Hungry Jack, he says, while munching one. He should know, globetrotter that he is. This joint's close to his heart right from his junior college days at St. Mary's, in the vicinity. Srinivas Chakravarthy, proprietor of the place and Laxman's skipper in the Buchi Babu Trophy, recalls how the latter ventured into Chennai's Alsa Mall to check the bill of fare at Hot Breads.

The fast-food fetish apart, the sinewy 16-year old had shredded the Tamil Nadu attack that included the lethal L. Sivaramakrishnan, Bharat Arun and M. Venkatramana with an ease that made batting seem so simple, reminisces Chakravarthy.

Laxman's career growth swung to fast-forward as he donned the Indian colours. His earliest encounter with the Australians was at Chepauk, Chennai, where the young Bret Lee and Jason Gillespie caught sight of his abilities in 1994.

The under-19 tour of Old Blighty followed shortly after, where he slammed as many as 20 boundaries against the Trescothics to compile a quick fire century. So impressed was Sandeep Patil, himself a `belter' of the ball, that the coach called him a "cracker" of a batsman.

The unforgettable 281 against Steve Waugh's Australia, which Wisden termed `Innings of the century,' put Laxman on a pedestal, feels Chakravarthy. So much so that crowds couldn't accept him at ground level and scores of 60 and 90 were not enough. Living up to public expectations can be tough, Laxman's ex-captain believes.

On the recent tour of the West Indies, a back muscle sprain during the match against Windward Islands at St. Lucia, grounded his game. Cricket for a while will be taboo, but Laxman hopes to resume fitness training in a couple of days.

The Caribbean trip had its highpoints. A visit to the Bob Marley museum in Jamaica fulfilled a long-cherished desire to check out `memorabilia' linked to Reggae's unchallenged king. Fellow Jamaican Shaggy's Lucky Day played frequently on the team bus. That may be the current rage but Marley's place in the pantheon of music greats is special, he feels.

Equally enamoured was he by the Four Seasons resort, home to the sprawling villas of Hollywood stars and other rich and famous owners.



AT HOME: Laxman recharges himself before the next tournament.

Srinivas' brother Srikanth, a former Osmania University footballer and now chairman of a premier catering college, is all ears. Manager of the take-away outlet, Prasanna Kumar, former Andhra, zone player and teammate at St. John's Foundation (Laxman's cricketing alma mater), finds the latter hasn't changed much from the early days.

A tiny fan having detected him, many more gather before long. Srikanth gets a felt pen and Laxman scrawls away on bats and caps.

Away from the cricketing action, his reading on the game continues, the latest find being - Shane Warne's autobiography. Hyderabad's favourite cricketer has moved house to Srinagar Colony, where his fourth-floor duplex apartment, neighbours that of his parents.

The entire block is an enclave of Sai Baba's followers, the first floor housing a temple, thronged by devotees every Thursday. Home's where he'll recharge himself, before a fresh foray into the cricketing firmament.

A JOSEPH ANTONY

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