A star is born

Published : Nov 17, 2001 00:00 IST

VIRENDER SEHWAG (Viru to most of us) symbolises the character of a young cricketer who wants to do well when the stage is big. The century he cracked on Test debut was a beauty, in keeping with the promise that he has shown over the past few years.

Knocking the ball around and dominating the attack is Viru's forte and I would love to see him grow as a dependable batsman in both forms of cricket.

For some time now we have been scouting for talent which can hold its place in the international arena. I know of a few players who came with a bang but then got swept off because they failed to realise the difference between India's domestic cricket and international cricket. Viru looks different to me.

It is always nice to have youngsters pushing the seniors because it creates healthy competition and the quality that Viru generated on his Test debut speaks for his awesome potential.

I am reminded of a similar debut by Pravin Amre when India visited South Africa in 1992. It was one of the finest innings one could have witnessed. The pitch was a challenge and the attack a lethal combination of some of the meanest bowlers you could imagine. And Amre blew them all with a crafty century on debut and from what I heard from fellow-cricketers it was a great effort by someone who had struggled to find a place in the side despite some very good displays in domestic cricket.

Viru too had been given a break when he played the Pakistanis two years back, but then he lost his way because he tried too many things in too short a time. Lack of proper guidance made this gutsy Delhi batsman wonder if he would ever get another opportunity, but when it came he grabbed it with both hands. That is what seperates a good player from the rest.

I remember Viru scoring a brilliant half-century in a one-dayer at Bangalore against the Australians when they visited last. He even bowled well in that match, but unfortunately injured himself and missed the rest of the series. His century against New Zealand in a one-day match in Sri Lanka saw critics making comparisons between him and Sachin Tendulkar, which was not proper I thought. How can anyone think of such a comparison? It must have embarrassed Viru too.

But I know he is an unassuming lad and I have heard from cricketers in the North how fiercely focussed he is on his cricket. I have not been surprised at all by his performance because I have seen him grow as a cricketer and here I must say that he stands out as the biggest gain for Indian cricket in recent times. The emphasis is on youngsters and I know there are talented cricketers like Shiv Sundar Das and Harbhajan Singh who promise to serve the team for long. We should add Virender Sehwag to that short but very significant list.

It is a good sign that a batsman like Viru has now arrived to ease the pressure on Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly. This batting line-up, should rank as one of the best that Indian cricket has seen.

It is all a matter of commitment and a strong mind. If you are mentally strong you can take on any attack, but then it requires tremendous application and loyalty to your job. Cricketers like Viru and Das promise this quality because both come from a background where cricket facilities have to be created by the players themselves.

I know how Viru grew up playing in the Najafgarh area in West Delhi. There used to be a lot of talk in cricket circles about his ability to hit the ball hard. Das too emerged from a background where he did not even have a proper pitch to practice on. He honed his skills on matting tracks and that is one reason why he has such a good defence.

Cricketers like Das and Sehwag do not come so easily and we need to preserve them. The administrators should guard against these young cricketers losing their focus by being forced to play too much cricket. Das and Viru have shown they have the calibre to serve the team long and I would like to see them grow as permanent and reliable members of the team. With V. V. S. Laxman completing the line-up, the Indian batting sure looks compact.

I don't want to pass any sweeping judgement and that is why I would also like these batsmen to excel consistently overseas, especially on bouncy and seaming tracks. I have the confidence in them and it is now for Das, Sehwag and Laxman to support the efforts of Tendulkar, Dravid and Ganguly.

The century on debut by Viru should also give the young generation a boost. Bred on placid tracks, this Delhi cricketer has shown that hard work can bring the desired results. His improvement in the course of a season has been amazing. They used to call him a belter of the ball without realising that he had developed a good defence and was the right man to take responsibility in the middle order.

I am so happy that Viru has emerged strongly with a striking performance against a solid team. Scoring a century in Test cricket is always a dream and to do so against a team like South Africa means a lot. The situation in which he walked in to face his first ball in Test cricket was so demanding, but Viru handled the challenge adeptly, just like a champion batsman would.

Virender Sehwag will be an inspiration to some more youngsters I know as he makes his mark in international cricket. Even as he scales greater heights, I would like to make a mention of his coach, A. N. Sharma, the man who never gave up and worked harder when Viru was discarded by the selectors. This century by Viru is a tribute to the efforts and faith of his coach. I am sure Viru will scale greater heights to make his family and his coach happier in the times to come.

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