A nemesis of bowlers

Virender Sehwag... a great believer in “positive batsmanship”.-K.R. DEEPAK

Virender Sehwag is an extraordinary talent, a great advertisement for the game, especially Test cricket. The spectators adore him because he entertains them. And the administrators love him because he attracts spectators. The Indian team just thrives on his style of batsmanship. By Vijay Lokapally.

Virender Sehwag's coach never had to tell him to take on a style, for he was born with one. And he carried it to the cricket field with confidence that has baffled cricket analysts the world over.

How does a batsman accelerate when approaching a hundred or a double-hundred? Of course, great players such as Don Bradman, Brian Lara and Mark Waugh were stylists who did not temper their strokeplay when in sight of a milestone. How does a batsman walk to the middle, take guard, cast a cursory glance at the field and get down to mauling the bowlers straightaway as if it's a routine job?

“How does it matter? If the first ball is a half-volley, I am not going to spare it just because I have just arrived at the crease,” says Sehwag. And that has been the philosophy of his batting.

Point taken. V. V. S. Laxman, a pure genius when it comes to punishing an attack, only smiles when Sehwag is belting the ball. “He makes batting look so ridiculously easy. Boundaries just happen when he bats. We, on the other hand, have to strive to create them,” said Laxman, who himself is a bowler's nightmare. It would be a great experience to watch Sehwag and Laxman together at the crease.

“I don't miss Laxman's batting,” said Sehwag, his warmth reflecting the admiration he has for a fellow batsman who also firmly believes in giving the best “entertainment” for the paying public.

Sehwag actually has made a huge impact on the game with his style; a style that underlines the importance of playing one's natural game irrespective of the situation. There have been times when Sehwag was accused of throwing caution to the winds and hurting his team's chances by gifting away his wicket. But he disagrees vehemently — and rightly so.

A careful analysis of his knocks, Sehwag insists, would prove that his approach does not change with the situation. He is a great believer in “positive batsmanship”. His batting has always been a celebration of cricket, an unfailing joy built on the strength of an awesome range of strokeplay. Many in the circuit are envious of his sensational batting style that takes one's breath away.

Going to a cricket match to watch players such as Bradman, C. K. Nayudu, Peter May, Len Hutton, Garry Sobers, Barry Richards, G. R. Viswanath and Viv Richards was said to be a wonderful experience. Fans would pray for Bradman to bat on and on. It's no different when watching Sehwag at the crease. “You want him to bat forever. He is so thrilling,” said Gautam Gambhir, a great fan of Sehwag.

Another great admirer of Sehwag is Sachin Tendulkar. If ever he has to buy a ticket to watch someone bat, it would be Sehwag. And also Laxman.

Given his style of batting, Sehwag is an integral part of the Indian team in all forms of the game. And what is his style? “Natural,” Sehwag insisted.

According to former India captain and all-rounder Kapil Dev, Sehwag is “calculated sometimes, but almost always he plays by instinct.”

The icon and his fan...Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir (left) during a practice session.-K.R. DEEPAK

True, Sehwag is calculated sometimes. Like in 2004 when he gave a distinct edge to India's campaign in Pakistan. He had learnt it was a “hostile” territory and was determined to make an impact.

And how? He used the bat like a rapier, tearing into the Pakistani bowling in Karachi. He silenced the stadium with his amazing assault of the home team's bowlers. That knock — 79 off 57 balls — set the tempo for India's domination in both the one-day series and Tests.

Sehwag repeated his act in the first Test, crafting a magnificent 309 in Multan. The innings laid the foundation for India's 2-1 triumph in the three-Test series. Sehwag promptly won the hearts of the people with a rare attacking style of batting. For a nation that celebrated the exploits of greats like Hanif Mohammad, Zaheer Abbas and Javed Miandad, here was a batsman whose appeal was universal. He was essential to Test cricket's survival.

The impact that Sehwag has made on Indian cricket is huge. Tendulkar's iconic presence in the dressing room was the motivation for Sehwag to achieve the heights he had once confessed was a “dream” after making a disastrous start to his career, managing to score just one off two balls in the Mohali ODI against Pakistan in 1999. His confidence then was shattered. “I had never faced fast bowling of that quality,” Sehwag admitted while reflecting on his dismissal by Shoaib Akhtar.

That was one rare moment in Sehwag's career when his confidence had deserted him. “I thought my cricket journey was over.” But he worked on his technique, learnt to handle fast bowling without compromising on his style. It was this self-belief that saw Sehwag grab the opportunity in Bloemfontein on a windy November morning in 2009. India was 68 for four with the cream of its batting removed, when Sehwag joined Tendulkar in the middle. “I just wanted to bat with him. What a great chance it was,” reminisced Sehwag, who delighted with a century that had class and authority written all over.

After that fabulous start to his Test career (7326 runs in 82 matches with 22 centuries), Sehwag went into a slump in 2007 when he figured in just one Test of the 10 that India played. His contribution was 44 runs. The slump sparked criticisms about Sehwag's technique and approach. But the man did not discard his style and technique that enabled him to carve a niche for himself.

The slump was like a bad dream for Sehwag, and he fought his way back to the top like a true champion — scoring runs in abundance.

“It was a difficult period for me but I knew I had the support of my seniors in the team. I can never forget how my coach (A. N. Sharma) worked with me. I was never unsure but it was just that I was not getting that break,” said Sehwag.

Sehwag also appreciated the selfless efforts of Anil Kumble, who backed him, fought for his inclusion in the team and helped him to revive his career that had a one-year break from Test cricket. Sehwag responded with 72 runs (29 and 43) in the Perth Test that India won and a dazzling aggregate of 214 (63 and 151) in Adelaide. Kumble had ensured that Sehwag was not lost to the cricket world. Sehwag had only played to ensure that Kumble was “not embarrassed” by his decision.

Sehwag has stuck to his style, growing in stature and strength as a cricketer who is important not only to his team but also the game. At a time when Test cricket is threatened by the growing popularity of Twenty20, players like Sehwag assume greater significance; they are an ideal advertisement for the five-day format.

Sehwag brings freshness to the competition whenever he occupies the crease. And when he is in full flow, nobody is discontented. As for the bowlers, they know what to expect when Sehwag bats. Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh thank their stars that they play in the same team as Sehwag. “I don't know where I have bowled to him in a match, but I struggle to keep him quiet in the nets,” confessed Harbhajan.

Sehwag's utility to the team cannot be measured in terms of runs he scores. Rather it's the rate at which he scores them that makes the difference. He not only demoralises the opposition with his belligerent strokeplay but also helps his partners to join in the revelry.

Harbhajan Singh (left) and Virender Sehwag share a light moment during practice. The off-spinner, though, has always had a harrowing time against Sehwag in the nets. “I struggle to keep him quiet,” he says.-PTI

“He takes the pressure off us in such a pleasant way,” said Gambhir.

As captain, Sourav Ganguly was quick to acknowledge the worth of Sehwag at the top. “He would give us such electrifying starts that often we could control the pace and course of the match,” the former India skipper said.

No wonder Ganguly backed Sehwag to the hilt on the tour of South Africa in 2001. “I knew he was special,” Ganguly said then. And Sehwag had never let down “Dada.”

Cricket needs players like Sehwag. His two triple centuries and four double centuries in Tests only confirm his ability to destroy the bowlers.

Sehwag, 32, is an extraordinary talent, a great advertisement for the game, especially Test cricket. The spectators adore him because he entertains them. The administrators love him because he attracts spectators to Test cricket. The Indian team just thrives on his style of batsmanship.

No coach would recommend his style of batting, for it has been patented by Virender Sehwag.