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Virender Sehwag was a rare gem in the necklace of Indian batting
He’s a simple man who derives happiness from the simple things in life.
Accordingly, Virender Sehwag delayed making his retirement official by 24 hours simply because he was looking for a joyous day to make the announcement.
And eventually, Sehwag announced his retirement on Twitter on 20 October which happened to be his 37th birthday.
With him gone – the last of the Fabulous Five of Indian cricket, all these great men’s accomplishments are now confined to our cricketing history.
Indeed, it was a privilege to be on the circuit when the famed Indian batting line-up was graced by players like Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sehwag.
Surely there won’t be such unique gems in the necklace of Indian batting for another century.
Just like every beautiful shade of the rainbow, each one of them brought a different flavour to their art at the batting crease.
Tendulkar was always ‘The God’; Ganguly, initially the God on the off-side who grew up to become a quality player; Dravid was ‘The Wall’; and Laxman ‘The Artist’ with magic in his wrists.
Sehwag was different. He was a born entertainer; a maverick who produced brilliant fireworks from start to finish. His batting was as original as tribal art; it did not come from any coaching manual, in fact it was a product of his own spirit of adventure. When on song, he flowed like a river. His strokes not only set pulses racing, but brought the crowd to their feet.
Indeed, when Sehwag was on fire, the world was such a beautiful place to be in. There would be smiles all around; the entire country would be in a grip of delight. Nobody dared to move from their seats in the Indian dressing room because nobody wanted to miss out on the awe and laughter his shots would generate.
Just as Anil Kumble was India’s No. 1 match-winner with the ball, Sehwag was India’s No. 1 match-winner with the bat. Backing his own instincts at the batting crease, he rewrote the text for Test match batting.
It was amazing to see an opening batsman who had his feet set in concrete. However, what he lacked in technique, he made up for with his superb hand-eye co-ordination, lovely timing and, most of all, his strength of mind and character.
Right from ball one, he was like Amitabh Bachchan coming to town with vengeance on his mind. As he went about his business of destroying the bowling, he was pleasingly brutal.
From Multan (309) to Melbourne (195), and from Chennai (319) to Cape Town (109), he charmed the audience, leading India’s charge to victory with some dream knocks.
I remember quizzing him in Multan (2004) about how he felt becoming the first Indian to score a triple century. Viru admitted, honestly, that he had no clue that he was indeed the first to reach that milestone. He was never statistically-minded, he just played for the love of the game.
For him the ball was meant to be hit; be it the first or the last ball of the day. Nor did he worry about the bowler’s reputation or the match situation.
A month before he scored his first triple century in Multan, he threw his wicket away after single-handedly destroying the Australian bowling on Boxing Day in Melbourne. Going for a big six to get to his double century against spinner Simon Katich, he holed out in the deep for 195.
A month later, he found himself in a similar situation. In fact, a much more golden moment beckoned as he moved within handshaking distance of a triple hundred.
Sachin Tendulkar was batting at the other end. Sehwag told him, “Paaji agar Saqlain dalega toh mai six mar kar triple century karoonga. (If Saqlain comes on to bowl, I will hit him for a six to complete my triple century).”
As luck would have it, Inzamam handed the ball to Saqlain Mushtaq. Sehwag simply deposited him into the stands at long-on, sparking wild celebrations in the Indian dressing room.
During the 2004 Test series against Australia, a magnificent century by debutant Michael Clarke in Bangalore had given the tourists a 1-0 lead. The second Test match was in Chennai and India was set a victory target of 240-odd runs to level the series on the penultimate day.
Glenn McGrath was adjusting the field, running in to bowl the last ball of the day. And guess what Sehwag did? He simply smashed him straight down the track for a boundary, the ball travelling to the fence like a bullet.
Unfortunately for India, heavy rains denied them a victory on the final day. Sehwag was also a handy off-spinner who had a lovely loop. Had he been a bit more serious about his bowling, he could have
taken many more wickets than the 40-odd he got.
He was also good at verbal volleys. And he never allowed a bowler to have the last word. He would crack jokes with his partner and sing Kishore Kumar songs while batting.
The other side of Viru
True to himself, Sehwag speaks just like he bats. He is straight and blunt. Diplomacy is simply not his forte.
Once he told the Chairman of the Selection Committee, who greeted him in the lobby, to mind his own business.
Sehwag was unhappy with him because he had come to know (through the captain) that the chairman had asked the captain to drop him from the playing eleven.
Despite his huge success, he remains extremely humble.
On our return from the 2006 series in South Africa, Sehwag, Rahul Dravid and I experienced a setback at Mumbai International Airport. Our bags had gone missing. And so, at around 2.30am, we three stood in a queue to lodge a report for lost baggage.
Sehwag is that kind of person. It didn’t occur to him that he was a ‘superstar cricketer’ who could throw his weight around and get things done for himself.
Viru has always had that wit about him. He is never short of one-liners that will make you laugh.
Once, while captaining the Delhi Daredevils in an IPL game, Umesh Yadav walked up to him during the death overs asking him where to bowl. “Bowler mai hoon ya tu! (Are you the bowler or me?)” quipped Sehwag, leaving the bowler stumped.
Sehwag’s trademark wit was also evident in his retirement statement where he said, “I 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!”
Zaheer retires too
Humble and hardworking, after announcing his retirement from international and first class cricket, Zaheer Khan will be retiring after next year’s IPL season.
A product of his own enthusiasm and drive, Zaheer has risen to become one of the prime pace bowlers in the world.
As a left-arm pace bowler, Zaheer bowls with fire and passion, and under helpful conditions, can even make the ball ‘talk’. As he grew wiser, he mastered the art of the reverse swing.
Like Virender Sehwag, Zaheer too blossomed under Sourav Ganguly’s captaincy.
While Ganguly had the foresight and the courage of conviction to push Sehwag from the middle order to an opening batsman, he asked Wasim Akram to give some tips to Zaheer during the 2002 Champions Trophy in Nairobi.
A quick learner, Zaheer made the most of Akram’s wealth of experience to go on to take 400 plus Test wickets. As he has grown in age and experience, he can make the new ball move both ways. More importantly, once the ball gets old, he can make the ball reverse – much to the surprise of the best batsmen.
Zaheer played a key role in India reaching the 2003 World Cup final in South Africa. And eight years later, he again made a significant contribution as part of India’s 2011 World Cup triumph at home.
In terms of class, and stature as the game’s leading Indian bowler, Zaheer is next only to the great Kapil Dev.
On India’s tour of England in 2007, the home team’s gimmick of throwing jelly beans at the crease when Zaheer was batting turned him into an angry young man, one who made the hosts pay dearly.
As it were, some English fielders armed themselves with some extra jelly beans at the drinks break in the second Test at Trent Bridge. When play resumed they teased and tested Zaheer’s patience by throwing them at the crease.
Zaheer didn’t take kindly to this and exchanged a few verbal volleys with the Englishmen who had no idea what lay ahead.
When Zaheer came back, he declared war on the English batsmen. And as he swung the ball alarmingly, he brought the English batsmen to their knees. India duly went on to win the Test and also the series.
A man of few words, ‘Zaks’, as he is affectionately called, is always warm and friendly, almost always cocooned in the privileged company of Sachin Tendulkar, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh.
Since he has hinted at being interested in becoming India’s bowling coach, one can be sure that he has enough tricks in his bag to groom India’s young pace bowlers.