Updated: October 20, 2015 11:12:44 am
‘See-ball-hit-ball’ is too simplistic and lazy an explanation to decipher the phenomenon that is Virender Sehwag. As he confesses in a revealing chat with Sandeep Dwivedi, there’s a real art to ‘seeing the ball’ itself. So much so that well before the ball has even pitched, Sehwag knows exactly which hoarding his eventual hit is going to be retrieved from. Excerpts from the interview.
After you hit a century against CSK during the last IPL season, you stated that your hands were going really well. What does that imply?
Some time back, I was batting well but I wasn’t converting 20s into 50s or into big ones. I had a problem when I was on the England tour and the Australia tour (both 2011). Because of my eyesight, I had headaches and a lot of eye pain. I was seeing a lot of doctors also. In England and Australia, after every Test match I was going to eye-specialists and every time they were telling me that my eyes are absolutely fine.
The doctors would say, “You are getting headaches because of migraine”. After the Australia series in India, I saw my family doctor, Dr Harsh Kumar. He told me that I don’t have an eye problem but I have power of minus 0.5. ‘Mujhe door ka problem hai’. Then he gave me glasses and it took almost a year to adjust to them. And now I am batting well, scoring runs. Everybody wants to play for India. Hopefully I will get a chance to play for India again and retire gracefully. I’ll try my best.
What were these batting problems that you faced initially with your glasses on?
During the peak of my career, I used to pick the ball as soon it was released from the bowler’s hands. And I hit the ball through the line. Here, I was no longer able to pick it quickly from the hand. So it became difficult for me to react quickly. That’s why I was getting out early on, since I was missing balls. Now I’ve adjusted with the glasses.
Did you try contact lenses?
I tried plenty. But it didn’t suit me. Somehow I was not comfortable with them. I batted with contact lenses in the IPL while playing for Delhi Daredevils. I wasn’t picking the ball early. So I went back to the glasses. If I can pick the ball early, I can react and score runs. I was worried. “I have to pick early, I have to pick early”, I would tell myself. With glasses, I think it’s fine.
So what do you do when you are not getting runs? Some spend more time in the nets. What did you do this time?
Sometimes you just need to get out of the game and should do things which you want to do in life and like. I mean I love to go out for dinner or watch a movie or listen to music. So I wasn’t bothered about my game. My game was there but I wasn’t mentally there to convert those starts. So if you get away from the game, you relax your mind, you focus fully and get ready to score big runs. My batting is all about picking the ball early.
That’s what happened in the Ranji Trophy (Sehwag scored 568 runs at 51.63, 2 fifties and as many hundreds). I picked the ball from the bowler’s hands and played well.
Are you claiming that this aspect of picking the ball was missing for nearly two years?
Yes. 2013 and 2014. Because we were in Australia 2011-12. After that tour I felt like there was something missing.
Which is that one shot that makes you to think that everything is in place?
When I wasn’t scoring runs and suddenly one ball hit the middle of the bat and went for four. That shot gives me confidence. But I have to be careful. My shot selection has to be good to score big runs.
That means middling the ball is good enough for you?
Yes, I mean, I was never good in technique, my game was all about hand-eye co-ordination. So I have always bothered about whether I was hitting through the line. Then it doesn’t matter where I am hitting.
Do you think coaches these days are over-analysing the game? Your first coach Mr AN Sharma always kept things simple.
I feel hitting the ball is the most important thing in batting. Picking the ball early is important. If you are picking it early and hitting the ball, I don’t think it matters much whether your feet are in the right place or your head is in the right place. Till the time you are hitting the ball down the ground, meeting the ball nicely, and you’re hitting fours and sixes you are okay. Players, generally, watch their videos to find out their mistakes. I was watching my videos just to enjoy my boundaries.
Gautam Gambhir once said that if he gets out in the nets, he gets disturbed. So he sees to it that he doesn’t lose his wicket. You, on the other hand, are happy even if you are dismissed 10 times, for Gambhir claims you walk out recalling all the good shots you have played.
I’m going into the nets with a purpose. Like I want to improve the cover-drive. I want to improve the cut-shot. The step out shot over covers or mid-wicket. I was concentrating and not worrying if the ball will get me out or not. Net practice is to improve your game. If I play a shot off every ball, only then can I improve my game. But sometimes, I take a dare with bowlers. If a bowler gets me out, I will give him a bat or a pad or a shoe. But if I don’t get out, I will bat for an hour. If I get out on first ball, I come out and the bowler who got me out will get a reward. So, there is a challenge for the bowlers also.
So it doesn’t bother you that you got out three times on the eve of a match?
What is more important — scoring runs or getting out in the nets? For me it is important to improve my batting and what I want to achieve during that session.
How did you react when people advised you with your game?
Those that help you, you adopt. The rest you erase. The only suggestion I picked up was from Srikkanth or Gavaskar. One of them told me to stand on middle and off. Don’t move your feet. Just cover your wickets. I did that and scored a lot of runs. If you are standing on off-stump, every ball is close to you. Others said go back and across, some said use your left foot and others said bring your bat from a certain angle. There were so many but the right one was for me to stand on middle and off. I still do that. Sometimes I even stand on off and even walk across to go closer to the ball.
Has there ever been pressure on you to entertain?
I am not bothered about the crowd. People come to watch me. They are coming with a risk. Before they reach the stadium, Sehwag might have gotten out and gone into the dressing-room. It happened many times. Why should I bother? I didn’t invite them. I invited my friends during the World Cup. I scored 30-odd runs. I should enjoy my game, try to score runs and concentrate. I should control my mind rather than think about people and my reputation.
Isn’t it tempting for you, though? Don’t you ever think that there is this crowd here and I have to put up a show?
Never. It is only to do with scoring runs, surviving. In the first-half (of my career), I was worried about my place. I wanted to score at least 50 so that nobody could drop me. When I had a stable place, then I started thinking about scoring big runs, big 100s. In Australia on my first tour, Rahul Dravid had scored a big hundred. And Shivlal Yadav said, “Look how much respect he is getting. If you score big runs, you’ll also get this respect.” And then I started scoring big hundreds.
Do big sixes not get you respect?
It’s a fact that if you start scoring big hundreds, people will give you respect. Now they say, “Wow! he is the only one who has scored a triple century for India”. That is the kind of respect that I am getting from players. On ‘Comedy Nights with Kapil’ TV show, even Sunil Gavaskar bowed to me. That’s because of that triple-century. It’s not because I hit a six. It’s because of the 300 that I made with a six. The kind of respect you get when you score 200, 250 or 300. That’s what I told Rohit Sharma once. I asked him how many double hundreds or triple hundreds he has in first-class cricket. He said “none”. I said go and score. The moment he scored a triple century, he called me. Very good, I said, now you will get picked for Tests. Now everybody is talking about Rohit Sharma.
Realisation is one thing, but how do you work towards getting big scores?
If it’s your day and you’re batting well, score as many as you can on that day. One day I scored 284 and the next day I scored just 9 and missed a triple-century. It would have been my third. So I realised that when I was scoring well I should have completed my triple century that day itself. Why leave it to the next day? Look at Rohit. It was his day, he batted 50 overs and made 264. You cannot be satisfied with scoring 175 and getting out in the 42nd over. Try to bat the remaining eight overs. Try to hit a boundary in every over so that you have eight more boundaries. So that’s 48 more runs and plus a few singles and twos. So you’ve crossed the 200 mark. You have to calculate too.
Is that how you planned your ODI 200?
Yes, I was hitting a boundary off the first ball of every over and then trying to rotate the strike. Because if the other player takes a single, and then I can hit another boundary or rotate the strike again. So six runs an over for myself.
You need to be smart as well. You need to know which bowler to hit and which to score singles. I hit Darren Sammy, Sunil Narine and the off-spinner (Marlon Samuels) because they were new. Sammy was no threat for Sehwag. I hit him for two sixes over covers. Then when Narine came on, I hit him for a four. Then Gautam hit one.
Narine bowled only 5 overs and went for 40 runs. Then Samuels came and I hit him a boundary. There were two bowlers, Kemar Roach and Ravi Rampaul, and I knew I had to handle them well. And the other bowlers I had to target. When I was batting well I could hit 3-4 boundaries even off Roach and Rampaul.
Back in 2008 during the Sri Lanka series, you almost scored a 100 before lunch (at Galle). It was the time when Ajantha Mendis was this mystery bowler that no one could fathom. What was your plan like?
I was picking the ball early. I knew Mendis had three balls. A googly, a carrom ball and an off spinner. His field set was so attacking that I had a lot of gaps to play my strokes. All I had to do was pick it. I knew if he bowled a googly, his little finger would go up and the moment he did that I stepped out and hit him for four or six. The moment he bent all his fingers, I knew it was an off-spinner. And I was ready for the sweep. Whenever he showed me just the index finger, I knew it was the carrom ball. If you see closely you’re picking from his hand.
Sachin Tendulkar never got out to him. He was picking the ball too. Some batsmen pick from the hand, some pick from the pitch. If you do the former you have more time to react.
Somebody like Shoaib Akhtar, did he give you a chance to pick from the hand?
Yes, he had a different technique to bowl a bouncer and different technique to bowl a yorker. And Tendulkar noticed these things and he told me and asked me to watch his videos. His hand comes in such a way that he bowls reverse-swing or a yorker. Then if it comes from the other direction, then it’s a bouncer. We have to be smart. We had to watch videos over and over again to get it right.
Did you and Sachin watch these videos together?
Never. I was watching my videos for enjoyment. I couldn’t sit with another player. The video-analyst was there. And our timings were different. Sachin would see them at different times.
How hard is it to pick Saeed Ajmal from the hand?
I played only a couple of balls (of Ajmal) in the World T20. I hit him for a six, a four and then got out to him. So only three balls. But I never had a problem picking him. If you watch his hands, it’s about what he does with his fingers. You can easily see when he’s trying to bowl a doosra. That’s why even when I speak to younger players, I only stress on focusing on the bowler’s hand. You will get more information quickly and you will react quickly.
Was any bowler tough to pick for you?
(Muttiah) Muralitharan. Because of his action, it was very difficult to pick his doosra. Sachin once told me that if his thumb is up, he will bowl doosra, but because of his darker complexion, I was never able to spot it. After that I decided whatever and wherever he bowls I will drive through covers or push it towards point. That worked.
But isn’t there a risk of edging the ball that went the other way?
And I did. But fielders weren’t ready to catch them. Mahela Jayawardene dropped couple of catches. If you look at my double-hundred in Galle, there were two chances but Mahela couldn’t react. Because the ball came too quickly at them. Because I swung so hard and Muralitharan was bowling quick. The edges flew.
How about Mohammad Asif, was he ever a problem?
When you are in good form, even a good bowler won’t give you a problem. Yes, Asif got me out a couple of times but I hit runs off him also. In helpful conditions, he was tough to handle. Like McGrath. He was on the spot every time.
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