The comedic genius of Virender Sehwag

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2003, Centurion, India vs Pakistan

India come out to chase a target of 275 in an atmosphere charged with more electricity than it can possibly handle. Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Shoaib Akhtar come out with the intention of hurtling missiles at their arch nemesis. Instead they run into a landmine called Sachin Tendulkar. The innings has been dissected and assimilated to bits. Tendulkar greets Akhtar with a six over third man. In the very next over, Sehwag hits an almost identical twin like shot off Waqar Younis.

Like father, like son. Or like teacher, like student?

2004, Multan, Indian vs Pakistan

Indian tour Pakistan after 15 long years, still looking for their maiden test victory. It has and will always be India’s batting exuberance versus Pakistan’s pace bowling avalanche. In the blazing Multan heat, Mohammad Sami and Shoaib Akhtar watched as Virender Sehwag flayed them mercilessly on either side of the field. The nervous 90s are like walking on glass for players and fans alike. Not if you are Virender Sehwag. When on 195, he attempts to get to 200 with a six but succeeds in smashing a four over square leg. When on 294, he smashes a six over mid-wicket to become the first Indian to reach 300. It is an innings where Sachin Tendulkar of all the people plays second fiddle, his double century thwarted by a declaration.

Somewhere in that innings, an extremely frustrated Shoaib Akhtar who had bowled his heart out, finally ran out of steam and imagination. Peppering Sehwag with short deliveries, he asked him to take a chance at hooking one of his deliveries. Luckily, Sehwag hadn’t run out of steam or imagination. Turning to the close-in fielders, he supposedly posed a question that has now become a part of his folklore – “Yeh bowling kar raha hai ya bheekh maang raha hai? (Is he bowling or begging?)”. Word has it that even the infielders burst out laughing.

2003, Melbourne, India vs Australia

India had just won a test on Australian soil after 21 years in Adelaide. At Melbourne, Sehwag batted like he wanted the match to get over in 3 days and go shopping. As he began to flay the bowling, he quickly reached 100, then 150 and then 195.

What does a batsman do when he is on 195?

When Tendulkar was on 194 in the historic Multan encounter, he was sent word to get on with it and get to his double hundred quickly so as to enforce a declaration. Next thing we knew he was called into the pavilion and the declaration enforced. I suspect he still hasn’t forgiven Rahul Dravid for that tempestuous call. But if that same memo had been given to Sehwag, there wouldn’t have been any hesitation. When on 195, he went for a slog and was caught at long on. The batting unit collapsed and India lost the match.

What if Sehwag had continued batting, scored some 500 runs and won India the match? That series was the closest we came to winning a series in Australia.

2011, India vs Pakistan, Mohali 

Over the years, as tension at the borders have mounted, witnessing a India-Pakistan encounter is like spotting an endangered species. When the two sides crossed paths in the semi-finals, it had the Prime Ministers of both countries in attendance. India won the toss and elected to bat. In the third ball of the innings, Sehwag smashed a magnificent cover drive to wake the scoreboard up from its slumber. In the third over, he took Umar Gul to the cleaners by smashing 5 fours. The encounter had been blown out of proportion by a media on red bull and nothing it seemed could ease the tension. His quick fire knock did what nothing else could – calm the nerves and lay the foundation for a competitive total.

2008, India vs England, Chennai 

The country had just witnessed its worst ever terror attack on home soil when terrorists entered Mumbai by boat and held the city hostage, claiming 164 lives and irreparably damaging countless more. All of this unfolded as an India-England series was underway, causing the visitors to get on the next flight home. Promised fool-proof security, the team returned to play the test in Chennai. Emotions were running high and India were required to chase 387 to set up a record victory on the 5th day. It was a situation tailor-made for a Sehwag masterclass. And he didn’t disappoint.

If India were to have any chance of coming within sniffing distance of a victory a good and brisk start was an essential ingredient, something only a  Sehwag could pull off. His 83 off just 68 balls laid the platform for a finish that also saw a Tendulkar masterclass of sorts. The country seemingly smiled for the first time after the horrific terror attacks had laid siege to our sense of safety and hope.

2008, Perth, India vs Australia 

The infamous Monkeygate scandal had thrown a black cloud over proceedings as the two sides faced off in a less than cordial atmosphere. India had never won at Perth and wasn’t expected to. Widely regarded as one of the most hostile and treacherous pitches for batsmen, it would be home to a historic test victory. And Virender Sehwag wasn’t even supposed to be there.

His form had deserted him before the series and the selectors weren’t too keen to see him board the flight to Australia. Anil Kumble stood by his man and Sehwag boarded the flight. He didn’t feature in the first two matches of the series, both of which India lost. Then came Perth and the match in which Ishant Sharma truly made Ricky Ponting his bunny. On completing 7 fantastic but wicketless overs, Kumble looked to give him a break and bring on RP Singh. Virender Sehwag ran up to him with a suggestion – “usko ek aur over do” he suggested to Kumble, who turned to Ishant and asked him if he was up for it. Ricky Ponting edged the ball the ball to Dravid in the slips in that over.In the 4th match of the series in Adelaide he struck a valuable 151 and helped draw the match.

Whether Ishant would have bowled that decisive over if not for Sehwag’ s timely intervention is a million dollar question. And would India have saved the 4th test if not for his knock is also up for debate. And to think he wasn’t even supposed to be there.

The innings listed above are in no particular order nor is there any logic to how they have been sequenced. It is just what came to my mind when I thought of him and the manner in which he played his cricket. Of course there are other innings too; the second triple against the West Indies and how agonisingly close he came to a third triple only to fall for 293 in a test against Sri Lanka; his 219 against West Indies which was the highest score in ODIs until Rohit Sharma overtook him.

The title of this post may come across as misleading but it underlines the carefree and sometimes near suicidal approach with which he approached the game.

Sachin Tendulkar inspired awe.

Rahul Dravid earned your unquestioned respect.

VVS Laxman transported you to a parallel universe.

Virender Sehwag made you laugh at his audacity.

He was like the kid who will patiently listen to his teachers and then go do the exact opposite. For someone who has scored two triple tons, a feat unmatched by his illustrious colleagues, it seems that there must have been some method to his madness.

Just that even Sehwag can’t seem to explain what that method was.

Sportspersons strive zealously,hour after hour, to get into what they call ‘the zone’, a place where everything seemingly falls away and one is truly immersed in the moment.

But  Virender Sehwag claims to have never been in the zone.

Triple centuries aren’t meant to be reached with a six.

A batsman doesn’t throw his wicket when he is on 293 or 195.

A sensible player must see off the new ball in the first hour of play before going for shots.

All of the above apply to players who are not Virender Sehwag.

He always seemed to operate in extremes, very rarely treading the middle path that is so assiduously prescribed for a successful life.

For a person who played the game like he always had a flight to catch, he strangely made his name in the test arena and not the t20 arena. He batted in tests like he was batting in a t20. Put him in a t20 and he figured that he had already gone as fast as he possibly could.

When he made his debut, he was regarded as Tendulkar’s clone. Though he never achieved the levels of consistency of his mentor, he carved a niche for his own. You’ll never forget what it was like to watch him bat. It’s the same feeling you get when you watch a Chris Gayle or a Brendon McCullum or an Ab de Villiers bat. You sit at the edge of your seat. The bowler comes thundering in. What does the batsman do? It is very seldom what you think they will do.

And you know what is common to all of them? They make you laugh, jump on your couch, hug the person next to you, cause you to spill your beer and just for a few moments, make you suspend logic.

As Sehwag prepares for his retired life, I wonder what advice he will give to the young kids in his academy. As someone whose technique experts and coaches alike struggled to make sense of, who earned the wrath of his coach when he was pulled by his collar for throwing his wicket away, and who apologised for not paying heed to most of the advice that was given to him over the course of his career, advice is perhaps too over reaching a word.

If the only thing he says to them is have fun, I think it will be closest to the truth.

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