As Virender Sehwag announces his retirement, there will be lots of tributes flowing in.
People will talk about his records, share videos of him butchering bowlers around the world, and write about his best innings, but that is hardly enough. For you see, great players come and go. There have been many cricketers who achieved super-stardom on the field.
However, very few sportsmen actually influence the game in the way that Sehwag has. He took the spot of the opener, took all the rules associated with it, twisted them into a jumble, and threw them out of the window.
That was Sehwag. The mercenary with a smile, the man who made commentators scratch their heads in disbelief, who made ‘experts’ rewrite their book of rules.
Here are five ways Virender Sehwag changed Indian cricket:
1. An actual attacking batsman:
Before Virender Sehwag, we had no real ‘attacking’ batsmen. There was Sachin in the 90s, but he had transformed into a solid, dependable batsman who believed in reading the conditions and exploiting them. There was Sidhu, but with a strike rate under 70 in the modern era, it’s hardly what you’d call attacking. We had a few ‘pinch-hitters’, basically bowlers who were pushed up the order to slog, but they ended up looking foolish and stupid when the opposition had strong bowlers. And then, Sehwag came along.
Virender Sehwag took the bull by the horns, and rode it for a 100 m sprint. When Sehwag was in flow, there were few sights prettier in world cricket. And the ‘tok’ sound the ball made when it came off his bat, you knew the ball was going straight to the boundary. Sehwag was the first real ‘attacking’ batsman we had, someone who was comparable with Gilchrist, Viv Richards, and Chris Gayle.
2. Took pressure off Sachin
Before Sehwag came into the scene, the entire team depended on Sachin. For more than a decade, for Indian cricket fans, Sachin’s wicket meant that the rest of the team would simply crumble around him. And since Sachin was the opener, you could rest assured that the entire team would pool in some 100 odd runs before running out of steam.
But when Sehwag joined Sachin as an opener, the focus began to shift a bit. Not only did the bowlers have to get Sachin out, they had to deal with this monster at the other end. One bad ball, and he’d smack you out of the ground and laugh in your face.
When Sachin and Sehwag got together, you knew that the two best batsmen of the country were together. Sehwag let Sachin warm up, he started smashing bowlers, kept the scoreboard racing, giving Sachin time to settle down.
The two of them together were like Karan-Arjun, they were as destructive as Jai-Veeru. When the two of them were at the crease after ten overs, you could step out of the room, have a chai, and come back later.
3. Broke all the rules of batting:
Before Sehwag, there were very strict rules about batting. ‘Watch the ball for the first five overs,’ they said. ‘Use your footwork to lean into the shot’, ‘Always play in the ‘V’ for the first five overs’, ‘Take singles when you’re in your 90s’.
Sehwag brushed away these rules like they were specks of dust on his shoulder. He would begin the match by whacking the bowler behind his head for six. He would stand in his crease and whip the ball to mid-wicket. While other cricketers were busy trying to play in the ‘V’, Sehwag chose to play in the ‘O’. While others looked for singles in their 90s, Sehwag smashed a bowler for 6 to get to his hundred.
Sehwag did what he wanted, and you couldn’t say anything to him. For, no one in cricket hit the ball in the manner that Sehwag did. He was the only person commentators refrained from commenting on. For Sehwag had a knack of making you look stupid the very next delivery.
4. Carried himself with the ease of a dude
Very rarely was Sehwag agitated. When he was fielding at slips, he was all smiles. When he was booting the bowlers of the world to all parks, he would smile and bump fists with Sachin like they were playing kho-kho in their backyard, and not a World Cup qualifier match.
Sehwag was neither politically correct, nor outwardly aggressive. And anyway, what could the man say that his bat couldn’t? And even when Sehwag chose to speak, he wasn’t beating about the bush. My memory takes me back to the day he smashed 175 against Bangladesh. In the post-match conference, he said, ‘All the bowlers bowled well except the Sreesanth’!
5. Fantastic Test Batsman
The common grudge against attacking batsmen is the fact that they aren’t good at Test cricket. Test cricket, that IAS exam that all batsmen must take, in order to be revered as a great. Test cricket, that litmus test of temperament, technique, and patience – something Sehwag was never expected to possess.
And yet, baffling one and all, Sehwag was most successful in Test cricket, across all three formats. He averages 21.88 in T20s, 35.05 in ODIs, and a superlative 49.34 in Tests. All this while scoring at a Test strike rate of 82.23. Only Shahid Afridi has a higher strike rate than Sehwag in the history of Test matches, but calling him a Test batsman is like saying Rajpal Yadav is the greatest actor India ever had. (Watch his greatest Test innings below)
Throughout his career, Sehwag broke every rule, stupefied every expert in the game, and continuously gave bowlers nightmares.
As he bids adieu, it is truly the end of a generation.
Ganguly, Dravid, Sachin and Laxman left a few years ago. Zaheer left last week, and now Sehwag is going too.
We are all growing older. Our memories will fade away.
But that ‘Tok’ sound the ball made when it left Sehwag’s bat, that sound is going to be hard to forget. So long, Virender Sehwag, and thank you for making cricket, that archaic British gentlemanly game the most exciting sport when you were at the crease.
Cricket was never the same when you were batting. It will never be the same now that you’re gone.