Asked for the umpteenth time in is career on Sunday whether he felt any pressure when he went out to bat, this time in the first innings of the 2nd test match between India and Sri Lanka, after having lost the first one comprehensively, Virender Sehwag said for the umpteenth time that he didn’t. He couldn’t understand what the brouhaha was all about. He went there and played his natural game, enjoyed himself, smashed the bowlers all over the park, scored a century, smashed the bowlers all over the park, scored a double century, carried his bat, came back for another crack, scored a fifty. All this was done with minimum fuss and a jovial smile on his face. Even his opponents couldn’t begrudge him his achievement. Murali almost rushed to congratulate him when the 200th run was scored off his own bowling. Rarely has one seen a bowler do that. It was a wonderful gesture from one champion to another.
Back in December 2007, when Sehwag had been out of the Indian test team for more than 6 months, the selectors decided to exclude him from the list of 24 probables for the upcoming tour of Australia. For a man, who was the only triple century maker for his country, this was a cruel blow. In those 6 months, Sehwag had played a few ODI’s and was also a part of the T20 World cup winning team, but had failed to impress with consistently decent scores. To top it Sehwag had not performed in the domestic matches as well and his previous record in Australia was not enough for the selectors to augment a place in the list. Gautam Gambhir, who was initially included in the list, got a shoulder injury and Sehwag was surprisingly included in the final 14 declared for the Australian tour 2007-08. It is widely believed that captain Anil Kumble’s support tilted the balance in his favour. Kumble might have lost a few crucial tosses after that, but had called it right on one of the more important moments in Indian cricket.
Over the past few years, Sehwag had emerged as the man most feared in the Indian Test team. For a man who came to the team as a SRT clone and who had opening thrust on him due to a packed middle order, this was some achievement indeed. Tendulkar was almost revered, Dravid was hugely respected by their opponents. But when it came to pure unadulterated fear, Sehwag was your man. When an opposition captain was asking the Shakespearean “To declare, or not to declare” question, for setting the final target, the Sehwag factor added a few more runs to the equation. The sheer presence of the man contributed to the team in times of crisis. The significantly lower second innings average, notwithstanding. But he seems to have been coming to terms with that statistic as well after his brilliant 151 at Adelaide. The worrying factor for the opposition is that the man always seems to tide over his short comings. The ‘Bowl short pitch at his body’ mantra worked for some time, doesn’t work too well now, ‘bowl incutters to him’ was temporarily effective but may not be any more. He is not a complete player and one is not trying to attribute qualities to him out of thin air. Just the fact that by the time you get the ball in the right area he might have actually scored 50+ is a headache for most opponents.
Sehwag evokes a gamut of reactions in fans of Indian cricket. Amazement, wonder, awe, anger, frustration, disgust, one gets everything at the Sehwag show. There’s a very thin line between amazement and anger, wonder and frustration and awe and disgust. It’s as thin as the line between ‘carefree’ and ‘careless’. Ask Kevin Pietersen. But the fact that Sehwag averages above 50 reveals that more often than not, it’s his ‘carefree’ approach that wins the day.
‘‘The man hunched over his motorcycle can focus only on the present instant of his flight; he is caught in a fragment of time cut off from both the past and the future; he is wrenched from the continuity of time . . . in other words, he is in a state of ecstasy; in that state he is unaware of his age, his wife, his children, his worries, and so he has no fear, because the source of fear is in the future, and a person freed of the future has nothing to fear.” – Slowness by Milan Kundera
Virender Sehwag’s batting style seems to fit the abovementioned fragment from “slowness”. It seems like a daredevil approach to the game. He enjoys his game and the absence of any fear of the future leads to his pressure free game. One feels that some how it doesn’t capture the essence of Sehwag’s batting. It’s not all wham bam. Maybe it is more nuanced.
One is not sure if this description of a speed demon applies to the top F1 drivers of our time. The present instant of his flight is what the driver may be concentrating on, but at the same time he has to be perfectly attuned to his current position, the condition of his car, the track conditions, the weather, team instructions and the strategy that he is running on. It’s not the straight line speed that can be achieved by his car that matters as much as his ability to control that speed and brake at the last possible instant on curves and bends. The split tiny micro second more that he takes to brake than the other drivers may be the differentiator for the championship standing. What also matters is the reliability of the car, the speeds it can give on various segments of the track and the car’s braking ability. Being a relative greenhorn to F1, one may be excused for any unintentional errors. But there is little doubt that F1 is one of the ultimate tests of man – machine combination.
Maybe Sehwag’s essence can be described as this combination of man and machine. He has the talent, the hand eye co-ordination required to hit the ball better than most. Maybe he is the ‘natural born hitter’. But at the same time his mind is not in a tizzy at times of his exhilarating stroke play. He seems to be on the way to becoming a great race driver as well. He knows what the team strategy is, he knows what the conditions are, he knows whether he has to push himself or just sit back a bit, he knows that he is control of the immense speed which has been gifted to him. He is on the way to becoming a more consistent driver. All F1 drivers make mistakes, so will he. It’s the consistency that can propel him ahead.
But does the protagonist’s description as a cricketer who bats phenomenally and bowls occasionally does him service. One would tend to disagree. There’s more to him than his cricketing skills. Ishaant Sharma’s extra over to Ricky Ponting at Perth which decided the fate of the match is a point in case. Sehwag has shown a keen cricketing brain beneath his easy going exterior and the fact that he is the vice captain for the SL tour bodes well for the future of Indian cricket. Who will take over from Kumble when he hangs his boots is an interesting poser, though one would believe that MSD is going to be the front runner, his ‘rest’ notwithstanding. The selectors have given enough hints about MSD’s elevation to India test captaincy and they wouldn’t want to upset the apple cart unless MSD is finding it tough to be in the Indian test team at that time. But this is just speculation, and at present post Dinesh Karthik’s sterling contribution in SL, the bike loving (no reference to the Slowness piece intended) MSD would be the odds on favourite. But Sehwag is surely going to be considered for the job.
Virender Sehwag should do well to remember Shakespear’s quote from Twelfth Night – “Be not afraid of greatness: some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon them”. Amen.
Posted by Rahul