SWASHBUCKLER!

When Virender Sehwag bats, the entire team watches avidly.

By Vijay Lokapally

ANIL KUMBLE was only watching the highlights of the day's play, yet his eyes were glued to the television screen! Virender Sehwag was belting the South Africans with some savage strokes and Kumble relished the action, even if it meant a repeat of the excitement that he had experienced earlier in the day at the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur.

V.V. KRISHNAN

Sanath Jayasuriya and Adam Gilchrist are names that evoke awe among the world's best batsmen for their ability to destroy the attack. Sehwag can be added to the list as a batsman of awesome range. The ease with which he tore into the South Africans at Kanpur was just a confirmation of his growing reputation as a hitter of the ball.

Sehwag's strokeplay is not something that has emerged from out of the blue. From the time he picked a bat to announce his intentions to make ball-bashing his only love, this dashing cricketer has only made compelling statements in every arena that he has strode.

Sehwag's assessment of his aggression at the crease has been simple and uncomplicated. "I can not resist playing my shots," he once said. "I know there are situations when I might invite criticism with a loose stroke but I can not shed my natural game. I would not be half the batsman that I am if I allow the situation to dominate. I have a bat in my hands and that to me is a weapon to destroy the bowler. You win some, lose some."

V.V. KRISHNAN

The aggression is not borrowed. It comes naturally to him and is an expression of his freedom in the middle. And how well he expressed it! In carving out his eighth century in 28 Tests, he countered the negative tactics of the South Africans with a degree of comfort that is an amazing aspect of his batting.

"I don't play for records. They happen," Sehwag asserts. From his century on Test debut, to the strokeful knock in Kanpur, Sehwag has never compromised with his responsibilities. For a man who was thrust with the opener's slot, he has not only accepted the job in the team's interests but has made remarkable progress in the slot to become its key member.

"It feels nice to be an important part of the team. I've always longed for such a responsibility," he confesses. Not the one to discuss his achievements at any point, he acknowledges that he has enjoyed the role of a match-winner in both forms of the game.

"I would love to have the kind of confidence that he (Sehwag) generates in the middle." -- Gautam Gambhir.-V.V. KRISHNAN

The pace that he sets is too scorching for his partners who are too happy to enjoy his dominance. "It's very difficult to bowl to him when he is on song," says teammate and close friend Ashish Nehra. Sehwag's ability to convert good deliveries into bad ones is one big challenge that confronts the best of the bowlers on the circuit.

"I like to compete," says Sehwag. It was his sensational batting on the fourth afternoon that lifted the quality of the game at the Green Park. In times when cricket fans prefer to stay away from watching the five-day game, the dashing Indian opener is one batsman who promises to attract them to the venue.

"I don't play to the gallery," Sehwag had once remarked after getting out to an avoidable stroke. As South Africa skipper Graeme Smith admitted, "Sehwag is the kind of batsman who can put pressure on the bowlers with his wide range of shots. We found it difficult to contain him. We knew he was a big threat."

"Viru promises action off every ball." — Anil Kumble.-S.SUBRAMANIUM

Sehwag has remained a threat to bowlers of all kind. His fearless pursuit for runs has pitted him against some of the crafty bowlers in the world but he has never buckled. Sehwag knows that to be the best he has to conquer the best and this awareness motivates him to excel on all kinds of pitches. He is one batsman who never gives much thought to understand the kind of pitch before a contest.

"Why should I worry about the surface if I know I've the ability to bat?" Sehwag asks. It is this belief in himself that gives Sehwag the strength to display his skills in all circumstances.

Cricket has seen unconventional bowlers and batsmen but Sehwag belongs to the rare breed that does not recognise pressure. "I've never seen under pressure," confirms Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, who has immense faith in his opener performing his role to perfection.

Static footwork may annoy most coaches and purists but Sehwag defies the coaching manual and the long-trusted belief that technique is paramount for a batsman to succeed at the highest level. It would be na�ve to suggest that Sehwag lacks the technique to survive at the international level. His approach to batting has compelled a few bowlers to change their line of attack.

"Why worry about technique if you can connect the ball effortlessly," has been Sehwag's theory. With a penchant to attack, Sehwag is known to disturb the bowler's concentration. A pull off the first short ball or a pre-determined square-drive are some of Sehwag's methods to unsettle the bowlers.

"Aggression at the start can give the right message," says Sehwag, who enjoys playing his shots regardless of the situation. And he has the sanction to stick to his game. "That's the way he plays and it suits us because he has the ability to ruin the attack," says Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly.

By scoring those big overseas hundreds, Sehwag has amply proved that his success is not just a flash in the pan. The 195 in Melbourne was a gem because it put the Australian attack in its place. For a change, the Aussies faced someone who matched their aggression. The innings of 309 in Multan shall remain the highpoint of his career. Every time Sehwag takes guard, he draws motivation from the triple hundred. "I would like to improve on that effort," he says. Sehwag certainly has his priorities right as he looks ahead at the season. The Indian team acknowledges him as one of the characters of the game. His confidence is infectious and the team looks up to his valuable, and tactical, inputs in pressure situations. Having come through the grind, Sehwag recognises the significance of studying the game. "I don't read books on cricket but don't miss an opportunity to watch and learn," he admits.

"I have never seen him (Sehwag) under pressure." -- Sourav Ganguly.-

Sehwag's early grooming, and his subsequent struggle to gain a place in the Delhi team, has taught him to put a value on his wicket. He was in complete control at the Green Park as he made a mockery of the negative bowling and defensive field. His shots carried the trademark Sehwag punch and were quite authoritarian in nature. He played the inside-out shots with remarkable ease and his quality to pick the line early helped him in creaming the South Africans, who were in a daze as Sehwag produced a commanding performance.

"I would say it was one of my finest knocks because of the situation," says Sehwag. "It was a challenge because the South Africans were only playing for a draw and we were wanting to create a possibility of a competition on the final day."

For the spectators, it was entertainment of the highest order after having suffered the insipid South African batting for the first two days. Sehwag's innings was also an inspiration for the young Gautam Gambhir, his Delhi teammate. "He made batting look so easy that I forgot the pressure quickly," says Gambhir. "Viru bhai is simply a delight to watch. I would love to have the kind of confidence he generates in the middle."

International cricket needs performers such as Sehwag, who can get the crowds back to Test arenas with their brand of attacking batting. His pace not only destroys the opposition but also gives his bowlers the time to plan their line of attack. He may have given a new dimension to aggression at the crease but Sehwag, for those who know him, will always remain humble. "I've a long way to go," he says.

The best compliment that Sehwag can ask for comes from the entire Indian team. When he is batting, nobody likes to miss the action. His entire innings, in the team's opinion, is like watching a highlights package. "For Viru, there is action every ball," says Kumble, as he switches off the television at his dismissal.