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By Peter Della Penna (on Twitter)
A lucky group of about 75 cricket fans and local adult and junior cricket players, including many from the DreamCricket Academy and the Cricket League of New Jersey (CLNJ) Colts team and Youth Program, got a rare opportunity to meet one of their cricket heroes over a meal on Tuesday night when Indian Test player VVS Laxman was welcomed for a special dinner at Paradise Biryani Pointe restaurant in East Windsor, New Jersey. The 37-year-old batsman from Hyderabad attended another dinner in Delaware the night before and has also been in Houston on this trip to the United States where he says he has been impressed with the level of interest in cricket. US fans may remember Laxman captained an India A side against an Adam Gilchrist captained Australia A side for a five-match series in 1999 at Woodley in Los Angeles.
Laxman walked in to the restaurant to find highlights playing inside on a projection screen of his famous second innings 281 against Australia at Eden Gardens which paved the way for one of the most remarkable wins in the history of Test cricket, India defeating Australia by 171 runs after being forced to follow-on 274 runs behind after the first innings. After posing for photos with those in attendance, Laxman spent 45 minutes doing a Q & A session covering a wide range of topics. He stressed to the youngsters in attendance from the DreamCricket Academy and CLNJ Colts to play cricket for the love of the game and not get caught up in trying to make a career out of it.
“I think it’s important for youngsters here or anyone to first know exactly what they want,” Laxman told those in attendance. “They should get the right guidance at the right time. I got a lot of support from my uncle. If not for my uncle, it was very difficult for me to actually make a decision that I want to take cricket as a career. So I think as a coaching clinic which DreamCricket is running, it’s very important to give that kind of guidance, give that kind of opportunity for them to first play something which they love. To make a career path will only come when they are 16, 17 or 18.”
Image (above) - VVS Laxman meets members of the DreamCricket Academy on a visit to New Jersey. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com] Click here for more photos from VVS Laxman's July 3 visit to Paradise Biryani Pointe in East Windsor, New Jersey.
“Until that time, it’s love. All of us play cricket because we love the game. We never played cricket with a view to taking it as a career. At 17 or 18, that was the time when you realize you have to take a decision whether to take it as a career or just play it as a hobby. So I think important thing for these kids is to play for the love of the game but give all the necessary encouragement because that’s very important, give them all the necessary facilities so that they can prepare themselves to be the best they can.”
Several youngsters were very curious to find out how much time Laxman spends practicing. He told the crowd that it’s key to have as much preparation as a player can before entering a match, comparing the situation to reading a book before taking a test.
“I firmly believe that especially in a game like cricket, you have to practice a lot of time so that when you are in the middle playing a match, you are not thinking about things you didn’t prepare for,” Laxman said. “Preparation is very important in any walk of life. It’s like in school, when you are reading a textbook, if the textbook is 100 pages and you read all 100 pages and you go to the exam, you are very relaxed. You aren’t having any tension saying, ‘I’ve only read 50 pages and I hope the questions come only from the 50 pages I’ve read.’ Similar in the game cricket, if you prepare well, prepare for each and every opposition bowler you’re going to face, what kind of wicket you’re playing on, once you are in the middle, you are playing with a calm mind.”
“You have to put in a lot of hard work. Especially at your age, I used to just play cricket. That’s why I’m quite happy that DreamCricket has taken the initiative, giving you an opportunity to practice as much as possible because this is the age where you have to practice a lot.”
Image (above) - VVS Laxman during a Q & A session at Paradise Biryani Pointe in East Windsor, NJ. [Courtesy: Peter Della Penna/DreamCricket.com] Click here for more photos from VVS Laxman's July 3 visit to Paradise Biryani Pointe in East Windsor, New Jersey.
Laxman also spoke about the family and societal pressures when he was a teenager to decide on a career path. He spoke to the many young Indian-American players and families in attendance about how much emphasis is placed on education in Indian culture and says his family was very supportive of his ambitions, something that any player needs to help succeed.
“I always wanted to be a doctor and that was my goal,” Laxman said. “My parents were doctors. I’m coming from a family where most of them are either doctors or engineers. I went to a school where academics was given more importance than playing any sport. We used to miss an important inter-school competition just because there was a unit test or normal class test on Saturday morning. But every kid in India dreams of playing cricket and I’m really lucky that I’ve been able to realize my dream.”
The batsman said that by the age of 17, just when the academic side of things was starting to get especially intense, his cricket ambitions were burning just as brightly evidenced by the fact that he was getting ready to break into the Hyderabad Ranji Trophy team in state cricket. His family took a pragmatic approach, giving him a chance to pursue cricket for five more years because if it didn’t work out, he could always come back to medicine whereas if he stopped cricket to pursue medicine for any length of time, the chances were that he would never be able to progress back to an elite level in cricket if he later decided to change his mind.
“We had a family decision where I would play for five years because in sports, age is a huge factor but in medical field you can always come back and do your medicine even though you are in your 20s,” Laxman said. “At that time, I gave myself five years and from 17 to 22. If I don’t make it to the national level and play for the country, I would leave cricket and come back and pursue my goal of becoming a doctor and luckily for me I was able to do that.”
“It was quite a tough time, those five years, because there were times when I used to go with my parents to various functions or parties they used to attend and obviously there were a lot of doctor friends and in front of me they used to ask my dad, ‘How can you take such a big gamble? How can you allow your kid to play cricket?’ Those kinds of questions actually motivated me a lot. Those five years while my friends were enjoying the so-called college life, which is exciting times for anyone, I was totally focused on improving as a cricketer and I was very lucky by the time I was 22 I got to play my first Test match.”
Among the other questions he fielded were the toughest bowler he ever faced (Wasim Akram), the toughest spinner (Muttiah Muralitharan) and the toughest bowler to face currently in world cricket (Dale Steyn). Laxman then took time to sign autographs before everyone in attendance began to dig in to some Hyderabadi Chicken Biryani, among other dishes, to mark the occasion.
Click here for more photos from VVS Laxman's July 3 visit to Paradise Biryani Pointe in East Windsor, New Jersey.