Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh are seemingly at the twilight of their careers. The IPL gave them a chance to relive their glory days, just one more time.
It was just like the old days.
The reactions in the stands were hyperbolic, a time and place where words were hard to find and you had to read expressions on faces to read between the lines. The older ones said ‘he’s back.’ The younger ones found a new hero to emulate in front of the dressing room mirror, plastic ball and bat in hand.
It was like the old days, when his arrival at the crease sparked off feverish anticipation. But it wasn’t the old days. It wasn’t a highlights package that excavated the glory days of bygone years from dusty VHS tapes. It was live television.
All of the above can apply to Virender Sehwag and Yuvraj Singh, power hitters who can pummel the opposition into submission on their day. But of late, their days have made fleeting appearances. Virender Sehwag last made an appearance in Indian whites in England’s tour of India in 2011 – 2012, which India lost 2-1. Yuvraj Singh is still somewhat in the scheme of things but got a taste of what it is to be the pariah of a nation after the T20 world cup finals.
In three years, Yuvraj Singh has lived many lives. On a wondrous April night in 2011, he played king to a billion delirious citizens. On a heavy April night in 2014, he played traitor to a billion angry souls. In between, he conquered death.
He changed his twitter handle to @yuvstrong, wanting to emulate Lance Armstrong, who hadn’t yet torpedoed from God to Lucifer. He then receded to do battle with his demons and emerged victor. On his return, he looked a little lost, almost as if asking himself ‘beat cancer and run up and down 22 yards?’ And when a few rowdy elements in the garb of cricket lovers hurled stones at his house, he surely must have asked himself ‘beat cancer and be condemned to hell – all for a bad day at the office?’
When Yuvraj plays king, he walks in with a swagger. On the field he is like rain, seemingly everywhere, all at once. He’s at point, pulling off a stunning dive to stop a near-certain boundary. He’s running up to the crease from his position, hurling the choicest of abuses at the batsman. He’s got the ball in his hand, expecting to take a wicket with every delivery. And when he succeeds, he appears nonchalant, almost as if expecting anything less is travesty.
When Yuvraj plays commoner, it isn’t a pretty sight. He’s looks like someone who has been air-dropped into an unfamiliar place. He’s struggling to read the line. His coming down the pitch is not fraught with intention but rather, desperation. He’s standing at the boundary, dropping sitters. His face is a mixture of listlessness and despair, almost as if he’s looking for a hole to disappear into. Post his return, it seems as if there are two Yuvraj’s. So whenever he comes out to the middle, everyone seems to be asking – is it the old Yuvraj or the not-so-young Yuvraj that is coming to the party? Similar reactions were elicited whenever Tendulkar came down the crease to smack one over the bowler’s head. That’s the old Sachin they all concurred. But Yuvraj isn’t old, he’s 32. Definitely older and wiser, but not old.
Virender Sehwag is one of the numerous brand ambassadors of a hair restoration clinic. Desperately trying to stop time in its tracks, his glasses unfortunately lay siege to his anti-ageing efforts. Great players always speak of the zone, a time and place where everything else seems to fall away and you are truly in the moment. Not Sehwag. He claims to have never been in the zone, something many find hard to comprehend. For Sehwag is the Papa Wallenda of cricket. He walks on a tightrope whenever he comes to bat. He inhabits a world where caution is relegated to the side lines and doesn’t seem to have a sense of occasion. What else explains the fact that he got to the first triple century ever scored by an Indian – with a six? And that he is the only Indian batsman to have scored two triple tons – a feat one would have expected any of India’s great middle order batsman in their prime to stake claim to, and holds the record for the highest ever ODI score.
The word most commonly associated with Sehwag is redemption. He simplifies batting to the very core – if it is there to be hit, hit it. His approach has had everyone befuddled – everyone except him. It’s as if he skipped all of the theory classes and got right down to practicals. He doesn’t bat as if the match depended on him, or to silence the critics, or add to his tally. He bats to silence the restless urges from within. With an India recall highly unlikely, nothing much has changed in his world. Not one to ever consciously play to the galleries, he looks to have finally made peace with his place in the annals of Indian cricket.
Sehwag may never play another match in India colours and Yuvraj Singh’s future is grainy at best. So when they launched into their respective fusillades in the IPL, they turned back time for everyone. Yuvraj, with his impeccable timing and Sehwag with his unapologetic brutality, brought back images of their halcyon days; like memories that protest being labelled memories.
In the 2003 world-cup face-off against Pakistan, Sachin Tendulkar played one of his best ODI innings ever. He welcomed Shoaib Akthar with a six that has now gained cult status. In the very next over, Virender Sehwag played almost an identical shot off the bowling of Waquar Younis. It was almost like the student telling the teacher – “I was just seeing, seeing if I could do it just one more time.”