Test cricket has an alarming tendency to saunter along as if in need of some helping hands during the batting friendly post lunch sessions, especially on a hot sunny day. On one such afternoon, 11 years ago, what transpired at Kanpur, still buds me with joy, tickles me with its freakish amazement. It was him, batting in an international game as if it was a charity game, destroying the South Africans with disdain, leasing fresh air to Test Cricket. It was Virender Sehwag.
En route to his sizzling 164 at Kanpur, he toyed with them with least respect after lunch on the 3rd day. He was in his zone. It was fun to watch. We wanted him to continue the scourging attack, which in all human possible sense was impossible for a longer duration, for the amount of risk he bothered not, to take. For the sole reason of entertainment, he had to attack but not get out! Eventually when he was trapped by Hall, every soul that was watching cricket except the South Africans in field, was disappointed – quite naturally. But as he walked back, a realization crept in, that, for a while we all breathed fresh air. That was Virender Sehwag.
It was his approach to cricket that the game needed the most. ‘See the ball, hit the ball’ sounds like a simplest cricketing advice, but it served most of his purpose. It might have been thought of as freakish idea but it is since proved it wasn’t. What was alarming was the consistency of it’s success. But what mattered most was the joy it provided.
There was a short point, a deep cover, a third man, a gully and another one. There was a trap. And on the other side of it was Sehwag. He swayed. He scored. He got out. He came again. He got out. Trap was no more a secret. He came again. He swayed again. He scored again. He bothered little as to where fielders were placed for he only saw the ball. He saw them, he hit them. He scored, he got out. In between he whistled!
Captains who thought, to have a third man was to be defensive, bore the brunt of his thrashing. As long as they hesitated to have one, he thrived on it. He sliced and cut past them. Even when they had one, he swayed to everyone’s amazement. “Whenever the opposition announced that they had a plan for Virender Sehwag, we’d look at each other and smile” – wrote John Wright in his Indian Summers.
He batted with ultimate freedom, he smiled at the close in fielders, he engaged with the umpires in a friendly chat more often than not. It never seemed like he was losing his concentration in the process. As he marauded the bowlers he didn’t mind to sing songs. There wasn’t a boring moment during his stay at the crease. There he was laughing, there he was dancing down the track, there he was whistling, there he was celebrating his freedom. He was a freak. He was a phenomenon. He was a joy.
“An opener shouldn’t get 190 before tea on the 1st day, that’s just rude” gasped Mark Taylor after Sehwag’s 195 at Melbourne. Yes it is rude for that is never expected of an opener in test cricket. If that wasn’t joy nothing else is.
John Wright writes – “The trouble with Viru is that he doesn’t think spinners can bowl or should be allowed to bowl”. He scored heavily off them. They caused his downfall too, many a time. But his approach never changed. He always felt they were his easiest source of income. It was his carelessness too, that brought us joy.
It didn’t seem he burdened himself with any responsibility as such. He batted as he wished. No wonder John Wright once grabbed him by his collar after he threw his wicket away at the Oval against England in ODI. But it was his instinct he trusted the most rather than any advice or methods. Whenever he thought too much about his game it seemed he struggled.
It is also to be observed that the Sachins and the Dravids and the Laxmans batted with ease when he was around, he gave them their space. They took their time as he took the attack to the opposition. His contribution to Indian cricket is more than the mere numbers he mustered with disdain. His mere presence struck alarm bells in the opposition dressing rooms. Though he has one of the lowest 2nd innings average, declarations were delayed, because once in a while he could bat like the way he did in Chennai as England went short of ideas as India successfully chased 387. Sehwag had clobbered 83 off just 68! It was a bliss.
John Keats said, beauty is, “An endless fountain of immortal drink, pouring unto us from the heaven’s brink”. So was Virender Sehwag.