Virender Sehwag- the nonconformist
When Virender Sehwag burst on the international cricket scene, there were many who tried extremely hard to compare him with Sachin Tendulkar. Their shot selection, stance, height was dissected to somehow lodge the mantle of “next Sachin” on Sehwag’s shoulders. They were even given the same moniker “Master Blaster”. However, when Sehwag was asked what’s the difference between him and Tendulkar, he replied in his inimitable manner, “our bank balance.” Any other cricketer would have perhaps answered the question with a bit more tact but not Sehwag – a man who set his own rules. Sehwag was a unique batsman – he certainly lacked the technique of batting greats – and some would argue he didn’t have the greatest temperament either yet he managed to terrorise the opposition like no other batsman could.
If the Fab Four of Indian batting – Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman and Dravid – were more like a symphony orchestra, Sehwag was one-man heavy metal band. He made bowlers dance to his own tunes and put the fear of God in them with his hard-hitting shots. In Test matches, openers were supposed to treat the new ball with respect and the first hour generally belonged the bowlers. Such cricketing “jargon” didn’t exist in Sehwag’s world. It never mattered to him whether he was nearing a hundred or even a triple hundred, the ball was to be treated with utter disdain. The pitch had too much bounce or if it was a turning track? No problem for Sehwag. “See ball, hit ball” was his mantra and he lived by it.
Dangerous, destructive, fearless are all adjectives, which have often been used for many batsmen over the years. In the last two decades, no other batsman apart from Sehwag had all these traits. Ian Chappell once rightly said about him, “Sehwag could change the course of a match with the ease of Moses parting the Red Sea.” He wasn’t an artist like Laxman nor had the graft and craft of Dravid. Yet, after Tendulkar he was the most-sought after scalp among bowlers around the world.
In 104 Test matches, he plundered – scored is too mellow for him – 8586 runs at an average of 49.34. Twenty-three hundreds – including two triple hundreds – were scored almost all over the world on all kinds of pitches and varied bowling attacks.
It’s a bit ironic that a man of Sehwag’s swashbuckling batting style is actually considered a better player in the long-form of the game. Not that his limited-overs record is anything to scoff at – in 251 ODIs, he scored 8273 runs. Yet it was in Test matches, he became one of the most important players for India in the last two decades.
Sehwag’s fearless approach towards batting followed him off the cricket pitch as well. In 2006 against Pakistan in Lahore, he along with Rahul Dravid put on 410 runs for the opening partnership. After the innings, Sehwag was asked how did he feel of falling short of breaking Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy’s record partnership of 413. “I don’t know who they are, I have never heard of them,” he replied without batting an eyelid. Criticism poured from several former cricketers at his ignorance but that was Sehwag being Sehwag – candid, honest and couldn’t care less for what people thought of him.
It might be argued that a man of his stature could have been given a better send-off. In the twilight of his career, Sehwag’s hand-eye coordination – his greatest strength – deserted him and so did his form. His last appearance for India was in March 2013 and he unfortunately became the forgotten man of Indian cricket who showed glimpses of his brilliance in the Indian Premier League.
Bowlers could never second-guess what Sehwag would do and even in his statement to the media announcing his retirement, he pulled off a surprise or two. Who could have imagined him quoting Mark Twain and Frank Sinatra in his retirement statement. But that is quintessential Sehwag: the only thing predictable about him was his unpredictability.