Virender Sehwag’s retirement from international cricket brings to an end a glorious chapter in the history of the game. No batsman has ever made such an impact on Test cricket. His style of batting changed the way a player approached five-day cricket. There was room to attack and it was a trend that became infectious in the cricket-playing nations. You could smash the first ball of the match and not look to defend just because it happened to be a Test.
From the time he made a sensational Test debut, Sehwag never compromised his style, getting to a century, double century and triple century with a six. He was a breathtaking figure at the crease, making a mockery of the bowlers and giving the audience a rare treat. Sehwag on song was the most fascinating batting sight in any format of the game. Test cricket looked so easy when Sehwag batted. It looked ridiculously easy when he batted well. A great crowd-puller, entertainer of the highest degree, Sehwag spoke to Sportstar after announcing his decision to retire from international cricket and the IPL.
Question: How do you look back at the cricket journey?
Answer: A wonderful journey all the way. Sometimes things worked for me, sometimes they did not. But what made me happy was that I gave my best. The effort looked worth it when the team benefited because the joy was collective. A happy dressing room is what we all looked forward to and I must say that I take pride in being a part of that happy team.
What was so great about the team that you were a part of?
Honestly, it was the same when I played for my club, state, zone or the country. Cricket was my life. I remember the first days with my guru (A. N. Sharma). It was his faith in me that carried me this far and I am indebted to him. I always wanted to compete and cricket gave me the platform to express myself.
And you chose to express yourself the aggressive way…
It was not contrived. I did what came naturally to me. You would hear many stories about how I was relaxed at the crease, how I did not care for the reputation of the bowlers but let me make it clear that I did my own preparation. It was not that I just went out and blasted the bowlers. I had to study the conditions and plan my knock. Yes, I did not believe in defending for the sake of defending, but I also did not just throw my bat around in the name of aggression.
How would you describe your style?
Positive. Some called it being fearless. But it was a flair that came to me by way of my desire to dominate. I confess I did not like it when the bowler looked to shackle me. He had the right to bowl different deliveries to me. It was for me to explore ways to decimate those deliveries. There were times when I would take calculated risks. Not always did I succeed but in the process I conveyed the message that I would not be dictated by what the bowlers think. I did it my way and I have no regrets.
Was it tough being Sehwag?
On the contrary it was a fascinating experience. To play in the company of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman, Anil Kumble, Zaheer Khan, Harbhajan Singh, Ashish Nehra, to name a few, was a huge privilege. What a galaxy it was. I was very fortunate to be sharing the dressing room with such stalwarts. I learnt and grew by watching them from close. The best thing was we appreciated the company and contributions of each other. We celebrated each other’s success.
You made batting look so easy…
It may have looked so from outside. But ask me. Batting was a challenge because modern technology allows you to tactically analyse the opponent and then plot. One had to be one step ahead of the rest. You had to pre-empt, make impeccable judgement when under pressure because the pressure mounts enormously at the international level. One dismissal changes the course of the match. So, it was not always as easy as it appeared to the world. I had my own battles, but yes I did not believe in letting a bad ball go unpunished. Why should you block just because it is the first ball you are facing? Give it a hard push, gather runs, gain confidence and prosper.
How many changes did your batting approach undergo with time?
Little. If you may have noticed, I never compromised when it came to playing my natural game. I would like to insist that there is a difference between playing your natural game, which is your strong point, and batting to suit the conditions, which becomes your contrived game. What would you prefer? Play the natural game and contribute. Or adjust and grieve. I could not make that change for the sake of making a change. I loved playing my shots and my team management backed me to do that. To play with aggression was my strength.
Did you ever doubt your potential?
Honestly, I never had the time to think about it. In fact, I preferred not to analyse, rather over-analyse, my batting style. Why would anyone want to do that? There was no point crying over a dismissal if you got out to a good delivery. Don’t we all, at some point, benefit from dropped catches, or the ball whistling past the stumps or the bails? You need luck no doubt. I realised early in my career that I must use every moment that I spent at the crease, which effectively meant that I must quickly study the bowlers and exploit their weak points.
What are your memories off the field?
My family. It stood by me in good and bad times. Without the support of my parents I would not have been a cricketer. I have some great friends. I am not Viru the cricketer for them. They come from the cricket fraternity, but we don’t discuss cricket. I value their friendship because it is a precious possession.
Your plans ahead?
The Sehwag International School. It is a project very dear to Aarti (wife) and me. I will be able to spend quality time with the students of my school. I also have a season of domestic cricket to play for Haryana. I have been assigned the role of a mentor and I am concentrating on giving my best to this young side. The Masters Champions League (MSL) next year looks an interesting prospect. I have not really thought of my plans beyond the next year. As of now, I am enjoying my status as a retired international player, but active in domestic cricket.
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