Sehwag’s batting reflected his spirit

The exploits of Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, in their own distinct ways, ran deep in the national consciousness; it took no time for Virender Sehwag to join the two illustrious batsmen.

Sehwag celebrates after scoring his second triple hundred against South Africa in Chennai.   -  V. Ganesan

Virender Sehwag brought his own tenet to the batting crease, the end motive of which was to entertain the paying spectators. People who watched from the stands and from the comforts of their homes knew very well the mindset of the Delhi Dasher. It will not be improper to say that the exploits of Sunil Gavaskar and Sachin Tendulkar, in their own distinct ways, ran deep in the national consciousness; it took no time for Sehwag to join the two illustrious batsmen raised in the Mumbai maidans.

As a raw 23-year-old, Sehwag was given the task of taking on the four-pronged South African pace attack of Shaun Pollock, Nantie Hayward, Makhaya Ntini and Jacques Kallis in his debut Test at Bloemfontein in November 2001. He was thrilled at the prospect of batting with his idol Tendulkar.

As the day grew warm at Bloemfontein, Tendulkar and Sehwag unleashed a plethora of uppercuts during their remarkable counterattack against the four South African fast bowlers. They lifted India from a dire 68 for four to 288 before Tendulkar departed after a rip-roaring 155 off 184 balls (23x4, 1x6). Sehwag cracked a century on debut (105 off 173 balls with 19 fours).

Tendulkar and Sehwag showed how the uppercut could be the most effective and productive shot against the short ball.

India lost the Test because of the profligacy of Ashish Nehra and Zaheer Khan. But as far as the progress made by the two batsmen was concerned, it was Tendulkar’s 26{+t}{+h} century in 12 years of Test cricket while the free-spirited Sehwag, with his maiden Test hundred, announced to the cricketing world the arrival of a batsman who was not going to be careworn by either the new ball or old, no matter what the bowlers of different variety could deliver.

The Australian chronicler, A. G. Moyes, said of England’s Gilbert Jessop that he looked at batting like a glorious gamble; he did not care where he hit, or how he hit so long as he did it and that he was the most ruthlessly unorthodox destroyer of bowling hopes that cricket has known. Jessop played in the late 19{+t}{+h} century and early part of the 20{+t}{+h}, appeared in 18 Test matches, scored 569 runs at 21.88 with one century and three half-centuries. He also took 10 wickets.

In many ways, Sehwag was like Jessop. The Prince of Najafgarh, a moniker he earned so quickly, scored 8586 runs in 104 Tests for an average fractionally lower than 50. In the time he played, Sehwag’s aggregate was seventh, the top run-scorers being Ricky Ponting (10548 runs), Jacques Kallis (9788), Kumar Sangakkara (9262), Rahul Dravid (9255), Tendulkar (8827) and Graeme Smith (8753).

Sehwag is at No. 12 for the number of runs scored (3771) batting first (1st and 3rd innings). However, he is right on top with 4815 runs batting second (2{+n}{+d} and 4{+t}{+h} innings), leaving players such as Dravid (4809), Tendulkar (4796) and Ponting (4369) behind. He is also right on top in scoring rate when compared with players who have played 50 Tests and more.

In 1998, Sehwag made an impression in international cricket as a bowler, taking a bagful of wickets in the Under-19 World Cup in South Africa. He made a very appealing run-a-ball 38 against South Africa in the opening match but thereafter was run out in three innings.

K. Srikkanth said then that Sehwag would go a long way.

At Lord’s in 2002, India coach John Wright and skipper Ganguly believed that Sehwag was too good a talent to be warming the bench. Sehwag promptly made his mark as an opener against Mathew Hoggard, Andrew Flintoff, Simon Jones and Craig White with a confident 84 off 96 balls (10 fours and one six). At Trent Bridge, he cracked 106 (183 balls, 18x4) against an attack that had Dominic Cork and Steve Harmison.

Once he made a great start at Lord’s as an opener, there was no doubt that Sehwag had sealed his place in the Indian team. As an opener, he has scored 8207 runs at 50.04 with 22 centuries and 30 half-centuries. He scored two triple centuries — 309 against Pakistan in Multan (2004) and 319 against South Africa in Chennai (2008). Both knocks reflected what a gifted striker of the ball Sehwag was. India won 40.78 per cent (42 Tests) of the 103 matches in which Sehwag had played.

Sehwag did not bat in the second innings of his last Test, against Australia, in Hyderabad in 2013; he fell to Peter Siddle for 6 in the first innings. He made 2 and 19 at Chepauk (second Test).

Sehwag scored a good century against England at Motera in November 2012, a Test that India won before losing the series.

Sehwag’s cricketing journey from the hot weather competitions of New Delhi to becoming a top-notch player in international cricket is a story that will remain etched in the minds of his team-mates, a legion of fans and of course his opponents.

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