The stage was set for an Indian number six to die a customary death against a battery of South African fast bowlers on the deathbed that is Bloemfontein. Along came Sehwag and changed everything we thought we knew about Test match batting. In a team of impressionist painters, we suddenly had a Jackson Pollock. Disruptive, avant-garde, unique and much ahead of his time.
Sachin was programmed and destined to bat. Dravid and Laxman, to make batting look like it was about painting haystacks while saving India from a battery of fast bowlers and negotiating the minefield of spinners. Saurav provided the team with the necessary swagger.
Sehwag provided something unique. Genuine chaos and ecstasy. There was no counter for Sehwag. He was like the fizz from a champagne bottle. Once uncorked, he had a life of his own. He was the personification of carnage, and we’re glad he was on our side! If Indian batting had a trinity of batsmen, then Sachin was Brahma, Dravid – Vishnu. Sehwag had to be Shiva, the God of Destruction. Aren’t we glad we had a pantheon instead of just a trinity?
At an average nearing 50 and a strike above 80, Sehwag set up Test matches like no one else has in the history of Test Cricket. Perhaps, Sir Viv before him. But we never had experienced someone like Sehwag.
He allowed India to win Test matches where we would be happy playing for a draw. Sehwag’s second innings was nothing short of a spectacle. By the time of stumps, if he was still playing, the other day was just a formality. He would set up the chase, and unless we fumbled, it was lock and load. India started believing that as long as Sehwag was batting any chase was possible. He allowed India to dream. More importantly, he showed, we don’t have to afraid. Of anything. Of anyone. Shoaib Akhtar bowling at 96 mph? Sploosh. Ajanta Mendis bowling mystery deliveries? Sploosh. McGrath being McGrath on any pitch. Sploosh. (That is not the sound that the bat made!)
Watching Sehwag bat was a transcendental experience. Everything else ceased to matter. It was not a sport of 22 fools playing and 22,000 fools watching. It was just Sehwag batting and the audience getting their fix. You started reacting to swishes and misses as if you are now Sehwag. You started shadow batting and your hand swishing like a sword as that’s how his stroke play was. Your hand started behaving like a scimitar, a scythe, but never a bat. Sehwag was a gift which just kept giving. It was romance. It was lust. It was envy. It was pride.
People say about David Miller, “if it’s in the arc, it is out of the park”. Well, people, Hello! Let me introduce you to Virender Sehwag.
Sehwag had a different arc. If it was in his arc, it had to be a whack. It was perhaps a few degrees higher or wider from Jayasuriya’s arc but almost the same ball park. And once someone bowled there, you knew. It had the inevitability of rains, mid-June, in Kerala. But when it rained, it poured. While with Sanath hitting through his arc, one would scream murder, but with Sehwag it was more surgical. Like a sharp scalpel, it would have taken care of the jugular before you realized. There was no time to scream. It was glorious violence. It was more Sergio Leone and less Sam Peckinpah.
As a batsman, for Sehwag, there was only one job to do. Every bad ball had to be dispatched, as he would often say himself. For the bowlers, deliveries of impeccable length and line that were also smote out of the pitch were put down as collateral damage.
Yes, there were many innings where he curbed his natural instinct to attack everything that came towards him. He indulged in the odd graft. He premeditated and left genuinely bad deliveries only to premeditate and hit the next good delivery for a four. It was hilarious. It was breathtaking. There were the genuine long innings where he went on the overdrive, over and over again.
Then there were innings where he was passive for long periods, like Brando, scratching and pausing and doing his best method, and then suddenly waking up to become who he really is, the Errol Flynn of Cricket. Swashbuckler all along. No one went on overdrive like Sehwag did. Sehwag’s top gear was him driving a Porsche on the Autobahn on cruise control while others were only able to manoeuvre with a Maruti on the Mehrauli-Gurgaon Road.
Sehwag on most days was like a cocaine shot straight to the brain. You lived and died many times by the time he scored a stunning 26 in 14 balls and went back to the dressing room. You wanted more but it wasn’t meant to be that way. It was over before it had begun. As the poet Mick Jagger once said, “You can’t always get what you want”. That, I guess, was the joy of watching Sehwag. It was exhilarating while it would last and end in its own inevitability. But when he delivered the motherlode, it was mayhem. Unstoppable, relentless madness. It defied logic and reason. And yet, he was consistent. You can’t argue with the method of someone who scored more than 8000 runs in Test cricket, opening for India, with an average of 49.34. You just celebrate that person.
When you try to remember Sehwag, you obviously remember Multan. Then there is Melbourne, where he got out trying to get to another landmark, again, with a six! There is even a bizarre yet strangely satisfying T20 innings at Christchurch, which was his first innings of the tour to New Zealand in 2009. Talk about intent, you had to see that match, and Sehwag bat, live, to understand intent.
However, I will go back to an IPL innings he played for King’s XI Punjab mostly because it was the last time I saw something similar to the Sehwag of old.
KXIP was a batting powerhouse in the 2014 IPL season with Maxwell and Miller adding another dimension to power hitting. But Sehwag was fading. Bespectacled, balding and old, he was a sad sight to behold. We watched him struggle to defend himself against bowlers he would have spanked with eyes closed. All I wanted was for him to get rid of the misery around his batting and show everyone the “This_is_Sehwag” kick in the stomach, a la Leonidas from 300. (Hmm, 300, from the only Indian triple centurion ever. Nice!)
It happened in a qualifier match against the top dog, Chennai Super Kings. Sehwag rolled back time and the CSK bowling was blown to smithereens with the captain of team India watching from behind the wicket. The scythe was back as was the chaos. CSK didn’t know what hit them. While planning for Maxwell and Miller, they forgot something. They forgot the primal force that is Sehwag, against whom there is no plan.
I knew there would be no farewell Test series, or even a farewell Test match for the man. This was it. I was ready to say good bye. I guess he was ready to say good bye as well. After his last exclusion from the team, it was just a matter of time, and amidst a lot of confusion it finally happened yesterday.
It is said about Azhar that in his prime, bowling to him was like bowling to a revolving door; You did not know where it would come out from. Bowling to Sehwag was like challenging a magician. All you knew was that there would be a flash of the wand and that the ball would disappear. There would be angles that your protractor couldn’t fathom, hitting arcs that defied both Euclid and Descartes, and an audacity that would put sledging cricketers in their place.
For that and everything else, Thank you Sehwag. There will be no one like you.