An adventurer does what he must
Previously, fans said that Sehwag played like Tendulkar; now they wish that Tendulkar would play like him.
It’s perhaps most apt to define Virender Sehwag by what he does to you, the watcher.
You never feel the tension or the intensity of the match situation when he’s in flow. He reduces you to a giggling school kid, forcing you to throw your head back and laugh at his outrageous shots. The stadium suddenly transforms into a mohalla, the intense international contest seems like street cricket.
If you’re curious and sensitive, you marvel at the audacity of his mind that allows him to use those skills and pull off these shots. Without those skills, he’d be Kris Srikkanth or Shahid Afridi and without that mind, he wouldn’t be Sehwag.
It’s easy to paint him as a free spirit – the way we, in the subcontinent, term some mast maula – but that doesn’t do him justice.
There’s so much more to him than that. There’s remarkable confidence in his skills, a touch of insouciance, a smidgen of showmanship and a streak of cheeky grit. However, above all, there’s great sense of adventure and an alert, yet calm, mind that’s open to possibilities.
That’s what makes Sehwag the player he is. That person screams through his batting. You associate attacking batsmen with the bossiness in their body language. Viv Richards swaggered, Matthew Hayden bullied, and Afridi remains high on adrenaline. Sehwag is stripped of those accoutrements: he remains calm, even jovial, and you can see that in his batting.
That attitude was on show in his world-record knock of 219. It wasn’t the thrilling maximums but the deliciously crafted drives, both square and inside-out, that caught the eye and induced admiration.
With the field spread out, the gaps were at extra-cover boundary and at deep backward-point. His response: sending deliveries dipping on middle and leg through extra-cover.
Was that done because it appealed to his sense of adventure? Or that he saw them as boundary balls? For an artist like VVS Laxman or Mohammad Azharuddin, flicking deliveries from outside off to leg wasn’t about taking risks nor do they stem from showmanship. It was just the natural thing to do.
It’s not a desire to score a boundary through an on-side gap that made them play those shots. They just couldn’t help themselves but play it. An artist does what he must.
With Sehwag, it’s slightly different. He doesn’t play those inside-out drives instinctively.
When the other gaps get clogged and when the bowler changes his line to restrict boundaries, Sehwag starts to unfurl these shots deliberately. He does it with purpose and, more importantly, with the knowledge that he can pull them off without risk.
He’s not a showman trying to impose himself. His definition of what constitutes a boundary ball is different from most others. An adventurer does what he must.
His county teammate Jeremy Snapes once told of a time when Abdul Razzaq, playing for Middlesex, started reversing and creating problems for Snapes and Sehwag. “I have a plan,” said Sehwag and promptly hit the ball out of the ground and forced a replacement.
Thinking about hitting that six to end his struggle says a lot about Sehwag’s mind. The point that he succeeded says a lot about his skills.
The greatest tribute, perhaps, can be found in the fans’ reactions. At the start of his career, they used to say that he played like Sachin Tendulkar. Now they wish that Tendulkar would free himself and play like him.