An entertainer all the way

“He is amazingly charged up,” is how Sachin Tendulkar expresses his admiration for his explosive batting partner, Virender Sehwag.-S. SUBRAMANIUM

There is something remarkable about Virender Sehwag’s keenness to return to international cricket. It is very obvious that he wants to make up for the time lost. He wants to score runs, and score them at a rapid pace which marks his batting in all forms of the game, writes Vijay Lokapally.

Virender Sehwag is back. Doing what he likes to do best, hitting the ball at will and hitting it as well as he is wont to. His cricket gear is sparkling again; his bats are shining and helmets gleaming. They had been put away for some time as he was recovering from a shoulder injury. The opening batsman’s face is radiant once again; his handshake as firm and warm as always. His batting is looking fluent and elegant as it usually does. The bowlers should be a worried lot.

During the time Sehwag was away, the bowlers enjoyed their cricket. The shoulder injury that Sehwag suffered was not only a blow to the batsman himself but also to India. The injury hurt India more than it pained the opener. And in his absence, the opposing teams could relax. But not any more!

There is something remarkable about Sehwag’s keenness to return to international cricket. It is very obvious that he wants to make up for the time lost. He wants to score runs, and score them at a rapid pace which marks his batting in all forms of the game. Batting, for Sehwag, is all about entertainment.

From the time he regained his place in the Indian team following his exclusion in 2007 after form and friends deserted him, Sehwag has grown into a unique brand, the kind that attracts a variety of admirers, young and old, the naive and the connoisseur, to the venue. He can scorch the turf with his shots; win hearts with his stroke-play. He can destroy reputations of the best of bowlers with his imperious batting. He is so different because he plays on his terms.

Sehwag is not impulsive. It is his nature to take the bull by the horns. Having fought his way into the Indian team on his own, Sehwag has learnt to grow by performing. Nothing but performance counts in Indian cricket and he knows it well. There is nothing rustic about Sehwag now, nothing. Not even his diction. For Sehwag, his batting is a kind of conversation he has with the crowds. They love it. And he loves it too.

Or why would Sehwag indulge in a form of batsmanship that many leave behind in the dressing room itself? He does not play to survive. He bats to thrive. It is the only way he has played his cricket. He will just not compromise his style, be it in a local match at the Modern School, a Test at Lord’s or a one-dayer at the MCG. His style of batting is as much a science and art as it was when Sir Don Bradman and Sunil Gavaskar played. Only the eras have changed, not the culture of batting.

Sehwag’s absence was felt the most during the Champions Trophy in South Africa where India’s poor bench strength was exposed. Sehwag’s character and temperament have been the strongest features of his cricket and the shoulder injury denied him the stage to do his job. Few batsmen have hit the ball with the authority of a Sehwag. Few batsmen in contemporary cricket have matched the likes of Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar in popularity. And if Sehwag has, it is purely because of his brand of attacking batting. His presence at the top gives the team the early thrust which helps in planning the innings. A batsman who has the skill to read the game astutely, Sehwag’s forte is his mental strength.

Sehwag, 31, means a lot to the team. “He inspires confidence in the dressing room,” Sourav Ganguly used to say. “He is amazingly charged up,” was how Tendulkar admired his explosive batting partner. “His enthusiasm is infectious,” emphasised Gautam Gambhir. “A pillar of strength,” averred Harbhajan Singh. “What a batsman,” gushed V.V.S. Laxman.

True. What a batsman this Sehwag is. You can expect him to play all the strokes in the game during the course of an innings.

How many batsmen can cover drive the first ball of a Test for four! How many can pick the ball with such grace off their pads as Sehwag does? The faster you bowl to him, the harder he hits. At times, he would dig out a yorker and send it racing to the pickets. It is because of batsmen like him that people flock to Test arenas. Sehwag does revive memories of the majestic Pakistani batsman, Majid Khan, who never shed his natural style just because he was batting in a Test.

Majid Khan, even without much footwork, successfully demonstrated his ability to tame the bowlers. He was so secure in his belief that he could dismiss a bowler without as much as moving an inch. Only the bat moved in a lethal arc as the ball was despatched in a flash.

Batting was like magic when Majid was in action. It is no different when Sehwag is in action too. There is very little movement of the feet, but the fielders go helter-skelter. Captains and bowlers are known to lose their composure, for Sehwag mocks field placements. You put an 8-1 field and he would still beat it with his amazing skills. He has such remarkable depth in his stroke-play.

Sehwag is humble to a fault. Not for him picking up an argument just for the sake of arguing. He is determined not to give away anything but only when he is batting. When he leads a team, he does not strike a commanding posture. He has a mind of his own but does not impose his opinions on others. He allows the players to make their own judgement. If a youngster struggles with his form, Sehwag takes it upon himself to help him regain it. He is known to think and worry more for the others. He is more of a senior statesman now and not just an explosive opening batsman.

He can be amazingly impassive in the dressing room but stunningly eloquent at the crease — two extremely contrasting features of a man who has given a new dimension to the art of batting. The art of batting in modern cricket as best exemplified by the likes of Brian Lara, Laxman, Mark Waugh and so on — all with the distinction of making batting look ridiculously easy. Sehwag belongs to that category.

When Sehwag is in the middle, it can be the most attractive, exciting phase of the game. You just can’t leave your seat. Bowlers appear shaky and embarrassed as he tears into them with great felicity.

Sehwag, often, makes the difference between the teams. That he is domineering with the bat is very well known. But what is not known is the effort that goes into his batting. His natural flair for ‘killing’ a bowling attack has been honed by a long and hard grind at the ‘nets’ under the watchful eyes of A. N. Sharma, his trusted coach.

Just as there cannot be another Viv Richards, there will not be another Sehwag. The two batsmen have many similarities, but the most striking one is their desire to dominate. When Sehwag is in the middle, his batting spells danger to the opposition and even the bowlers are in a trance. Sehwag does not like comparisons. So let there be none. Let’s just enjoy and celebrate Sehwag, a truly uncompromising and unflinching entertainer in contemporary cricket.