VVS Laxman has long been regarded as brilliant and infuriating in equal measure. How can a player who has consistently put Australia to the sword in a manner only Lara and Tendulkar can rival in the last decade have had to endure constant speculation about his place in the side? Why has he been unable to dominate others in the way he does them?
But now, finally, Laxman has the opportunity to step out of the shadow of the fab four: to establish himself as the best batsman in the Indian side. In the last eighteen months, he averages a formidable 57, with his excellance asserting itself more consistently. And no easy runs, either: these Tests have been against Australia, England, South Africa, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.
Laxman's qualities are equally apparent against pace and spin alike. His expertly compiled 79 at Perth earlier this year paved the way for India's incredible Test win there. In Sri Lanka a few months ago, the fab four suffered a slow and painful death at the hands of Messrs Murali and Mendis. Laxman was by no means immune from this, but his panache and concentration put the others to shame: he averaged 43; Dravid 24; and Tendulkar and Ganguly 16 apiece.
For all Dravid's brilliant innings over the years, it is palpable that he is in decline. With Ganguly retiring after this series, India may wish to stick with Dravid for a while longer yet. But if they are to do so, it should not be at number three.
VVS Laxman is about to turn 34; he is about to play his hundredth Test match. Yet, for all that, for all his six sublime centuries against Australia, it has been a career essentially lived in the shadows of the other three members of the fab four. In large part this has been due to his infuriating tendency to get dismissed when well set. But it is also in part because he has been hidden away at number six, to often left stranded and too late to dictate the innings' tempo.
Now that must change. Laxman has shown, during his limited opportunities, that his technique and batting style are well-suited to the pivotal role of number three. The other components of the fab four have had their best years; Laxman may yet have his in front of him. After his sublime double century, India should recognise that they must entrust Laxman with more responsibility: he has scored 13 Test hundreds, and, with several years ahead of him, 20 is eminently attainable. He has developed admirable tenacity and patience tio go with his breathtaking stroke-play. Now put Laxman in the most important position - and watch him flourish.