Najafgarh is far removed from the fashionable neighborhoods of Delhi. But today children carry their cricket kits to the schools from Class 1 itself, thanks one local cricketer called Virender Sehwag.
It was in 1994 that I first met Virender Sehwag, when I had gone to meet cricket coach Amar Nath Sharma at his Vikaspuri G Block Government Boys Senior Secondary School in connection with a problem the coach faced from the school authorities.
The coach then had asked me to watch a young cricketer who was just 16 years old. He had just joined the school and the coach predicted a bright future for the boy. He even asked me to watch him play in a tournament two days later.
But, it took me almost a year before I had the opportunity to watch the star-in-the-making in a local inter-school tournament. I watched in awe as he blasted the opposition bowlers all over the field. The organisers later complained that almost half-a-dozen balls were lost as Viru sent them over the boundary wall and they could not be retrieved.
Sehwag’s team won the match comfortably. His reputation as an attacking batsman, even as a schoolboy, spread far and wide in the capital. No wonder, several glass panes in the Najafgarh neighbourhood were broken as a result of his ‘knocking.’
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As the only sports reporter watching the proceedings, I was pleasantly surprised when the organizers invited me to present the man-of-the match award to Sehwag, who in later years became known as ‘Najafgarh ka Nawab’ through his exploits with the bat for the Indian national team.
My association with Viru began thus and continued even as he made headlines while playing for Delhi Under-19 teams in later years. I would either speak to him directly or over the phone after each of his achievements in junior cricket. “Why don’t you come and join us at home in the celebrations,” his brother Vinod would ask.
I vividly remember one of Sehwag’s exploits from the early 1990s. Deciding to field first in one of the inter-school matches, the Vikaspuri team dismissed the opponents for less than 100. Team coach AN Sharma left Viru and another boy to make the runs and went to another ground for the next game along with the rest of the team. Such was the confidence the coach had in Viru!
The young Viru did not disappoint his coach. Even as the matting was being laid at the second ground, Sehwag and his partner arrived there after having reached the ‘target’ in quick time at the first ground.
I continued to take interest in the career of Viru as he played for Madras Club when the club’s organiser Satish Sharma (popularly known as Neelu) took him under his wings and encouraged him to play in most local tournaments.
From the day I first noticed him on the cricket field to watching him score big tons in domestic and international arena, Sehwag has been a cricketer who settles for nothing less than the best. No doubt, his natural rustic batting gave pleasure to millions of cricket watchers all over the world. He not only dominated the opposition bowling but destroyed them. Such exploits never surprised me because I had seen it in so many local tournaments when he was still in his teens.
As an Indian opening batsman in later years, he always brought an air of casual brutality to his batting. Two triple centuries in Tests (the only Indian to have scored 300 in Tests) is a testimony to his abilities. When he gets going, he can put even the great stars (batting at the other end) under his shadow.
Virender Sehwag is a completely different person off the field. Soft spoken and mild-mannered, he has not forgotten his past nor his old friends, colleagues and coaches. Even now whenever I happen to meet him at a cricket ground (though the occasions are far between now), he always greets me with his famous smile.
I have had the occasion to be part of some of the happy moments of his life: invitation to attend his marriage to Aarti and the day he received his graduation degree at a special function at Jamia Millia in 2004.
“I no longer need to feel embarrassed inside the Indian dressing room. Ab mere paas degree hai,’’ he told me at the special function where he received the degree and a memento from the Jamia Millia Vice Chancellor Dr Syed Shahid Mahdi. “Aaj jo khushi mujhe milee, who Pakistan ke khilaf 300 banane mein nahin milee,’’ he added. As he said in his prepared retirement speech today, his 37th birthday, cricket has been Viru’s life and I wish him the very best in whatever he proposes to do once he hangs his bat.