“You just react to the ball. If the ball is there to be hit, you just hit it. Don’t worry that this is a Test or one-dayer or T20. You just hit it. Because it’s your routine. You are not worried about ‘what if I get out’. You are not worried about a four or a sixer, one or two. You just hit the ball. And enjoy the sound”
The more I saw Virender Sehwag, the more I wondered how can be a man so simple yet so powerful? That smile even in the toughest times and the simplicity of the man was just astounding.
Over the course of his 16-year international career, he kept it really simple – “See ball, hit ball.” Steve Waugh even said that Sehwag is the ultimate “KISS” player: Keep It Simple, Stupid. Yet, it was really difficult to understand the enigma that is Virender Sehwag.
He came to the crease, he conquered, he left scars on the opposition and he left. That’s it. He made a complicated game like cricket look ridiculously easy. When on song he would just suck the wind out of oppositions’ sail. When not, he still left a smile on people’s faces with his devastating cameos. There was nothing such as a bad Sehwag innings – either it was exhilarating, devastating or mind-boggling.
He was predictably unpredictable. You would never know what he would do next. The bowlers found it difficult to understand and so did the fans. In the day and age of immense pressure and with careers online, cricketers’ place in the side depended on the number of fifties, hundreds and double hundreds. But milestones never mattered to Sehwag.
There was no such thing as nervous 90s, 190s or 290s in his dictionary. On one day, he is on 195 (Melbourne), searching for a double ton, looks to hit a six but perishes and on another day, he is batting on 295 (in Multan), normal brain would reminisce what happened three matches ago and try not to repeat the same mistake, and get to the landmark with singles but not Sehwag’s. He walks up to best and senior-most batsmen playing with him in the middle and tells him that he is going to hit a six off the next ball despite his warning. What next? The next delivery has history written all over it – the Sultan of Multan becomes the first player in the history of Indian cricket to hit a triple century.
Sehwag’s 293 against Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium in 2009 is probably the most devastating Test innings I have watched in a stadium. Before Sri Lanka could realise what hit them, Sehwag had already taken the match out of their hands and helped India achieve the No.1 Test ranking. He brought up his 100, 200 and 250 with fours.
He reverse paddled Muttiah Muralitharan for a four off middle stump when on 248 and my astounded brain went, “What the hell goes inside this person’s mind!” He went from 184 to 200 in space of six balls. He made the Sri Lankan bowlers look like club-class bowlers that day. 284 runs in less than a day – even team totals struggled to reach that level in those days.
“In the dressing room they told me I was hitting the good balls too, but if you look at it my way, I hit only the bad ones,” Sehwag said after scoring 284 in a day.
In this day and age of statistics and rigorous data analysis, there is in-depth study of the pitch, conditions, opposition and situation. But Sehwag batted in an altogether different zone. General tendency of a batsman would be to take a cautious approach at the fag end of the day or a session and try and save his wicket but the situation never mattered to Sehwag.
Imagine this, it’s the last ball before tea, India are yet to avoid the follow-on against South Africa despite being 305/1, Makhaya Ntini comes steaming in from round the wicket, Sehwag has already got his 200 in the same over with a six and a four off the first two balls, you would expect him to defend and walk off for tea. But what does he do? Gives himself room and absolutely murders it through extra cover and then turns around, tucks his bat under his arm pit and walks off as if nothing had happened even before the ball has hit the ropes. Unimaginable.
“So furiously was the ball struck that those who didn’t see it travel could have thought Sehwag was actually dismissed. Such a rapid walk back is usually the preserve of batsmen who have been dismissed bowled, turning back in frustration and fuming all the way to the dressing-room. Some batsmen might have held on to their pose on the follow-through, others could have walked towards the non-striker, and a few more might have waited for the umpires to remove the bails to signal tea. Not Sehwag, a unique batsman and a singular man.”
He famously went on to score 319 in that innings.
He would employ reverse sweeps in the last over before lunch or hit a six off the first ball of an ODI or hit the three sixes off the first three balls he faces in a T20I. It was difficult to understand yet it was exhilarating.
“Players, generally, watch their videos to find out their mistakes. I was watching my videos just to enjoy my boundaries,” Sehwag once said in an interview to Indian Express.
MS Dhoni once said, “When it comes to Viru, you need a bit more time to understand him. All the players who have played with him and shared the dressing room with realise the fact that his mindset is completely different from maybe all the cricketers around the world.”
When Sehwag entered international arena, people doubted whether he would survive without foortwork or technique but he ended up playing 104 Tests, 251 ODIs and 19 T20Is and was India’s fourth-highest run-getter amassing 16,892 international runs.
Then there was a belief that he was just suited to limited overs international and Tests is not his cup of tea but he ended as a far better Test player (Average 49.34) than a limited overs international player ( 35.05 in ODIs and 21.88 in T20Is).
There were doubts about his temperament in Tests but he went on to score two triple centuries, joint most double hundreds (6) and holds the top three highest scores for India (319, 309, 293). He also won the Test player of the year award, in 2010. He revolutionised Test cricket. His 83 off 68 balls against England in Chennai in 2008 (which helped India chase down 387) instilled a belief that India can chase down any kind of total on weary fourth and fifth day pitches.
Even during and after his slump in form, his approach never changed. Amidst the deafening cheers, he murmured songs in the middle, laughed and walked off with a smile even after getting out in 90s, 190s or 290s.
His thinking was simple, his approach was simple, his press-conferences were simple and straight-forward but yet he confounded everyone throughout his career.
Last year I was in Delhi to cover an ISL game, I decided to visit the Feroz Shah Kotla one afternoon and take a tour of the ground. But to my surprise, the Delhi Ranji team was practicing in the outdoor nets. So I stopped and watched the entire practice session, Sehwag was the liveliest of them all, constantly motivating, chirping, chatting, laughing and smiling. He made the session a lot more fun. As the session finished, I waited and decided to approach Sehwag for an interview, he was walking back to the dressing room at a brisk pace so I followed him and asked, “Paaji, ek interview kar doge?” The bespectacled marauder turned back, smiled and politely said “Nahi yaar, sorry.” It was my first ever interaction with Sehwag and instead of disappointment or anger, he left me with a smile on my face.
The last sentence of his retirement statement aptly defined the person Sehwag was.
“I also want to thank everyone for all the cricketing advice given to me over the years and I apologise for not accepting most of it! I had a reason for not following it; I did it my way!”
There was no player like Sehwag and perhaps, there never will be one.