Updated: October 25, 2015 12:15:49 am
India has played international cricket since 1932, but it wasn’t until Virender Sehwag came along — he of the cleft chin, the comfortable physique, and the lazy-lala walk — that the country could boast of a cricketer who instilled fear, real fear, in the hearts of the opposition. I’m talking here of a Viv Richards level of intimidation, of an opponent’s inner voice that goes “Oh s**t!” at the sight of an approaching player.
Cricketers are given appellations by the more florid sports writers, names like “Master Blaster” and “Little Master”. The best name for Sehwag is the Great Deflator. No modern batsman could take the wind out of an opening attack — deflate it, in other words — as adeptly as Sehwag. Think back to 2008, on that tour to India by England that had been scarred by the Pakistani terrorist assault on Mumbai. Set a daunting 387 to win in Chennai, India pulled off a dazzling triumph. Many remember it as a rare occasion on which Sachin Tendulkar — with an unbeaten 103 — led India to victory. But the true architect of England’s defeat was Sehwag, who scythed his way to 83 off 68 balls, making the run-chase a comfortable one for the batsmen who followed.
India worshipped Sachin, but truly loved Sehwag. All our favourite heroes, dating back to Lord Krishna, are fallible: persons who, while magnificent, had undeniable flaws. Perfectionists are harder to digest. Indians are in awe of them — Sachin is a case in point — but India loses its heart to those who are more instinctive, less thoroughly introspective. Sehwag was the perfect cavalier — bindaas would be the Hindi word for him. He played not for records, or for posterity, but for the team and his own personal elation.
There’s an instructive contrast here, a Tale of Two 190s. Recall Sachin’s reaction in Multan in 2004, when his captain, Rahul Dravid, declared India’s innings closed with the Mumbai Master not out on 194. Sachin was denied a double century, and to this day that statistical lost opportunity rankles with him. But he was dawdling at the crease, playing not for the team, but, like an accountant, for the record books.
Compare this with Sehwag in Melbourne in 2003. He was on 195, having just hit a six off Simon Katich, a harmless part-timer brought on in desperation by the Australian captain. A double-century there for the taking, Sehwag attempted to hit yet another six off Katich, only to hole out to a fielder in the deep. He missed his 200, but walked off without giving it a thought. He was the anti-Sachin. I’m willing to bet that he doesn’t remember how much he scored that day. He’s likely to say “190-odd”.
Tony Greig summed up Sehwag’s technique on air in the course of his shellacking of Sri Lanka in Mumbai in 2009, when he scored 293, missing out on the 300 he could have scored in his sleep had he chosen to milk his way to that landmark with singles. “Feet absolutely nowhere, bat perfectly positioned,” Greig observed, as Viru carved Murali for six over extra cover.
Viru — the name is such a lovely echo of Sholay, the movie — had no angst. He redefined batting, playing alongside the line of the ball as opposed to getting behind it. In his unconcern for convention, he was the direct descendent of Ranji. Unlike the Jam Saheb, however, he was no aristocrat, but the apotheosis of the fearless yeoman. Let’s just call him Super Jat, and leave it at that. Jat Balwan, Jai Bhagwan!
The writer is the Virginia Hobbs Carpenter Fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution.
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