Somerset (Taunton), Jul 16: He has been a long-time middle-order mainstay of India's batting line-up but veteran VVS Laxman says he started feeling assured in the team only in the last four years during which he was given the "freedom" to play his natural game.
Laxman still remembers the years when he wasn't made to feel an automatic choice in India's playing XI even after he had crafted the legend of 281 against the Australians at Eden Gardens in the waning winter of 2001.
"In the last four years, first Anil (Kumble) bhai and then Mahendra Singh (Dhoni), as well as coach Gary (Kirsten), have given me an assurance in the team, the freedom to play my natural game, and I've able to translate that freedom into performance," reflects Laxman.
"During my first four years, between 1996-2000, while opening the innings and trying to do my best for the team, whenever I failed in two innings, people used to brand me as a non-regular opener and I used to get dropped very frequently," he recalled.
Gearing up for the Test series against England that starts at Lord's from July 21, Laxman said he desires to strike his first century against the hosts in a wining cause.
"I haven't made a century in England yet; nor the team has won at Lord's while I have been around," states Laxman.
Laxman views his career in two halves -- one before and one after 2007 when he felt completely assured in the team.
Since July 2007, after the World Cup in the Caribbean, Laxman has played 43 Tests and scored 3268 runs at an average of 57.33. That he played his first 80 Tests for 4878 runs and an average of only 42.42 tells a story.
The years 1996-2000 which he mentions, saw him play 16 Tests and score 626 runs at an average of 24.07.
Between a particular stretch of 2004-2007, he could get only 1596 runs from 31 Tests at 37.11.
This was a period when he carried the hurt of being marginalised in one-day cricket and that whenever the team decided to play with five bowlers, the only batsman to be shown the door was him.
"Those first four years made me very tough. I realised that the only thing you should be concentrating on are things which are under your control.
"What people say, doesn't affect or bother me. I work hard and want to be true to myself in preparing for each match. I know, if I do so, results will follow," he said.
"Cricket being a sport, sometimes results happen and sometimes they don't. Rather than being result-oriented, it's better to concentrate on the process," he added.
"I approach each and every innings with a positive attitude and the same mindset...I am enjoying my last four years in the Indian dressing room; each other's company, it's fabulous and there are results to show."