Sehwag: a maverick and a maestro!

Virender Sehwag transcended cricketing statistics. And sure enough, statistics do not tell the story of Sehwag.

New Delhi: Cricketer Virender Sehwag at the launch of a special cricket show in New Delhi.   -  PTI

Virender Sehwag had his highest Test score, 319, emblazoned on his kit bag.   -  K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

A few decades ago, most budding cricketers wanted to be like Kapil Dev — an all rounder, a match-winner or simply put, a game-changer in his own right.

Over the past decade, another ‘natural’ cricketer from the Northern part of the country left his mark on the game. Responding to the name of Virender Sehwag, this rustic youngster was conventional, uncomplicated and uncompromising, much like Kapil Dev, but, delightfully different in many ways.

The reputation of the opposition meant nothing to him. When he batted, wielding the bat appeared the easiest task on a cricket ground. An occasional bowler with his share of success, Sehwag was not an all-rounder in the strictest sense. Sehwag, the batsman, was one of his kind.

Though Sehwag hardly opened the innings for Delhi in the longer version of the game, every reference of batting exploits in international cricket will be incomplete without the mention of him being an opener, like no other.

Now that Sehwag has chosen to retire from international cricket, the next generation of cricketers will require the help of his batting videos to understand the kind of impact he made in an era when live action was brought to the living rooms.

Will it be possible to explain Sehwag’s batting if a young, aspiring cricketer asked you how a simple man like him could achieve such success in Tests without acquiring ‘serious’ technique?

He broke norms and myths. He rewrote definitions and chartered a course that is tough to follow. He walked alone and carved out a class of his own. Don’t forget, by the time he made a mark in Test cricket, Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and V. V. S. Laxman were already part of the famed Indian middle-order.

Before Sehwag found his way to the Indian dressing room, he had gained a reputation of being a crusher of reputation in domestic cricket — in both the shorter and longer formats. Even during those years, cynics in the garb of purists, predicted Sehwag’s failure in four-day cricket.

“He cannot bat for long. No patience, you see. He plays too many strokes. He will be sorted out in no time at the higher level should he get to play there.”

These negative vibes had no impact on young Sehwag. As is his wont, Sehwag batted in a manner as only he could. He gave an impression of being a compulsive stroke-maker, not a slogger but someone who was unaware of the ways to buy time and build an innings.

For someone who bought a much-needed scooter from the cheque received following his Ranji Trophy debut against Tamil Nadu at Chepauk, Sehwag gave an example of his brand of cricket eight months later, in October 1998, in his second match against Haryana at Rohtak.

A slightly indisposed Sehwag whacked 118, his maiden century in first-class cricket, that played a part in Delhi’s huge victory. Thereafter, there was no looking back for this strong lad from Najafgarh.

Less than six months later, Sehwag was part of the Indian squad for the Pepsi Cup, that featured Pakistan. Having known his penchant for stroke-making against all opposition in domestic cricket, I asked him how well prepared he was to take on the likes of Wasim Akram and Shoaib Akhtar, the feared new-ball bowlers he was yet to face. His realistic approach to the challenge reflected the man he was.

Sehwag said, “Bhaiya, when Akram comes on to bowl, I’ll play him like I play (left-arm pacer) Ashish Nehra. When I face Akhtar, I will play him like I play (right-arm medium pacer) Amit Bhandari.”

Obviously, it was not as easy as facing his Delhi team-mates. But the point here is, Sehwag was never in awe of the reputation and capabilities of these bowlers. As it turned out, some years later, he chose these two for ‘special’ treatment during India’s chase-and-win script in the 2003 World Cup.

Destructive batting apart, Sehwag was capable of staying in the middle long enough to score at a pace not usually seen in Test cricket. He silenced the doubters more than once. After all, he is not only India’s only player to score two triple centuries in Tests but also holds the country’s top-three Test scores, above V. V. S. Laxman’s epic 281.

Though Sehwag’s batting style was considered ideal for the limited overs format, it took him time to deliver his best innings. His 219 against West Indies at Indore in December 2011, remains the only double century in ODIs by a captain. And who can forget the disdain with which he treated Sunil Narine that afternoon.

Yet, when the list of great Indian Test cricketers is made, Sehwag’s name is unlikely to be among the premier ones. Those conforming to the traditional ways of batting will be perched above this simple cricketer with exceptional abilities.

In short, Sehwag combined simplicity with stupendous stroke-play. He played attractive strokes against those adopting an aggressive approach. He epitomised entertaining batting with the ease of an acknowledged exponent. After all, how many in international cricket have heralded 100s, 200s and 300s, with a six!

But Sehwag transcended cricketing statistics. And sure enough, statistics do not tell the story of Sehwag.

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