A great entertainer

K. PICHUMANI

What sets Virender Sehwag apart from the others is his ability to bat on his own terms. In a glittering field of great performers, the Indian opener has carved a niche for himself, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Note the solicitous manner in which Virender Sehwag tends his bat after every big stroke. It does not matter to him whether the bowler’s reputation has been dented or the ball has been dealt a furious blow. His concern is for the bat, which does all the talking for him.

“(I am) under scrutiny all the time.” This statement from Sehwag only confirms the fears of most modern cricketers. Every movement on the field is analysed, every stroke dissected, but it hardly makes any impact on the wonderful entertainer that Sehwag is. He firmly believes that he is different.

Sehwag is not parsimonious when it comes to giving the spectator his money’s worth. One may not become very enthusiastic about some of the dour, and great, batsmen in international cricket today but Sehwag is an exception. He will not wait for the bad ball.

This down-to-earth batsman personifies modern batsmanship as gloriously as a Sachin Tendulkar, a Sanath Jayasuriya or a Brian Lara does. His courage and skills make for a lethal combination and there cannot be a greater sight than Sehwag in full flow. He may perish in his attempt to dominate the bowling, but he will not compromise his game. “I like to attack,” he would often say. And attack he will, even going for a six when batting on 291.

The period he spent away from the dressing room transformed Sehwag’s attitude to life. “Take nothing for granted,” he said. “I always knew expectations would grow with time. Critics can be ruthless and followers too demanding. But I never expected people who understood the game to do what they did,” he said, recalling his exclusion from the Test squad.

By scoring his second triple century in Tests, Sehwag made a strong statement about his cricket. The savage competition evoked the best out of the man, who was waiting for the chance to prove his detractors wrong. “I wanted to prove a point,” was his honest comment after reaching the landmark in Chennai.

Sehwag’s personality is a contradiction of his batting. Flamboyance is restricted to his performance at the crease where he can smash the ball with frightening ferocity. Off the field, he is a humble person.

He is modest enough to admit that he was not mentally strong enough to tackle failures. “I was not consistent with the bat, and making a comeback was a worry. Domestic cricket was not challenging, though it was a challenge to be consistent.”

A batsman who could take one’s breath away with his amazing range of strokes had now begun to doubt his abilities. As always, his coach, A. N. Sharma, stepped in and reminded his ward of his strong points. Thereafter, Sehwag took over and, as is his wont, let the bat do the talking for him.

There was a silent, yet very significant, support for Sehwag from India skipper Anil Kumble, who insisted on the inclusion of the Delhi opener for the tour of Australia. What convinced Kumble to back a batsman who was low on confidence and woefully out of form?

“Honestly, I took a chance because I needed an option and Viru happened to be the best. His record in Australia was awesome but it is the way he bats that really clinched a place for him. The manner in which he annihilates the opposition is breathtaking. In any case, you could not have judged Viru by what he was doing at the domestic level. I somehow knew he would bat his way into the XI and I am so happy that he did. He has shown a lot of maturity in his batting,” said the genial Kumble.

Sehwag, 30, distinguished himself with two successive innings that spoke for the man’s abilities: a match-saving performance in the final Test against Australia in Adelaide and a hugely entertaining innings against South Africa in the Chennai Test. “He seems a lot more focused now,” observed Kumble.

Reflecting on the two knocks, Sehwag said, “To tell you the truth, I just went out and did what came naturally to me. In Adelaide, I knew I had to stay at the crease. In Chennai, the pitch allowed me the freedom to play my shots and I got my confidence back at the right time.”

A pity that Sehwag, who bats in a Test match at the pace of a limited overs contest, does not figure in the scheme of things of a captain who has been pitching for youth. Sehwag’s destruction of the South African attack in the first Test must have left India’s one-day skipper and the selectors red-faced even as it gladdened the hearts of Kumble and Sachin Tendulkar.

Tendulkar never misses an opportunity to remind people around him as to how much he adores Sehwag. “A once in a lifetime player,” was how the little master described Sehwag.

A batsman universally dreaded by the bowlers, Sehwag can be a nightmare for any captain because the playing conditions hardly matter to him. For instance, how would someone like Kumble tackle this batsman?

“You can do little. The best option is to push everyone to the boundary and allow him to take just the ones and twos. But I doubt if it would work. I am sure Viru would still clear the boundary at will,” said Kumble.

A pat from the master... Sachin Tendulkar congratulates Sehwag, who scored a triple hundred in the first Test against South Africa in Chennai.-K. PICHUMANI

What sets Sehwag apart from the others is his ability to bat on his own terms. In a glittering field of great performers, he has carved a niche for himself. He pursues his goals with an unflinching attitude. Nothing can compel him to change his game. “I will bat like I have always done,” Sehwag asserted. Precisely, that is what his team expects of him.

As former India skipper and fast bowler Kapil Dev said, let Sehwag remain Sehwag. Which means, he should be allowed to bat with the freedom that marks his batsmanship.

Let Sehwag perform the way he does, setting new benchmarks, scaling new heights and not for once abandoning his earnest desire to be known as the greatest entertainer. He, however, reminds with all humility, “Only after Sachin.”