Virender Sehwag: Playing 'Fruit Ninja' on the field
Batting is an art and one needs to comply within the framework, they say. Every young lad is rigorously coached and the protocols are well marked. The two V’s of the grip lying in line with the ridge, the knees bending at forty five degrees with the ground, the back-lift up until the handle meets the stomach, the bat coming from third man, the front foot stretched to the pitch of the ball, the back foot curled with the heel lifted. The textbook is profound and the training is profuse. Yet, here is a champion batsman who made a mockery of all this. He derided and rubbished the textbook. To him, batting was simple and less confounding. If you see the ball, hit the ball, and hit it hard!
With this motto, he intimidated every bowler. Dismantled every bowling attack. Tore apart the best bowlers in the world. Unaware of the country, the pitch, the bowler, the ball, the form, he went about slaughtering everything that came his way. He played ‘fruit ninja’ on the field. When he saw the ball, he hit it! He ridiculed even the best balls. Opening the attack for India, he was up there bursting cylinders. Regardless of the situation of the game, he went about playing his natural game, launching the blitzkrieg. The missiles were spot on and hit the bull’s eye. He unveiled an array of strokes and cracked the whip on every bowler. When he was on song, all the opposition captain could do was watch him and maybe applaud.
He never had the technical brilliance to support him, yet the hand eye co-ordination was his back bone. That was his X-factor. His hand exactly followed his sight and all that you could hear was a thud and the ball rocketed to the fence. Jayasuriya was one batsman who broke the shackles of batting and went on to set towering records. The purists brushed it under the carpet saying that he wasn’t a great Test batsman and Test cricket is all about technique. To all such myths, Viru posed a serious question. He has more than a century of caps and has under his kitty close to 9000 Test runs at an average of 50-odd. He is the only Indian batsman to have scored a triple century and he did it twice. He has the most number of double centuries by an Indian. He is among the four Test players to have crossed the 300 mark twice in Test cricket. The top three highest scores in Test cricket by an Indian has his name etched alongside them. Therefore, by no means is he a laughing stock and in terms of records, he features in the top five Indian Test batsmen. He was a batsman to be taken seriously.
You talk about consistency and he has an average of 50-odd, just below Sachin, Dravid and Sunny Gavaskar. For an attacking batsman of his stature, his average is just breathtaking. Yet, there is something about his batting that makes it vulnerable. When the team is following on, reeling under a huge deficit, he would swing his bat to something wide and end up nicking it to the slips or the keeper. In what is construed to be the heights of ruthlessness, he would loft it over the slips to find the third man and he would be gone in a jiffy. Just when the team needed him the most, or when the team was looking for a stable start, he would ruin things. He wasn’t the Tendulkar who would curb his natural instincts to bail the team out. He was Sehwag. He would be his sanguine self, no matter what the situation was. The probability of him firing was always a 0.5. On certain days, it was well above the half mark and on other days it lurched well below it. On an average, his batting hovered around the 0.5 mark. There isn’t a bowler he hasn’t taken apart. There isn’t a country he hasn’t scored in or scored against. You name it and he has it. His raise to greatness was spot on.
Just until a year ago, he was indispensable to the team. Yet, the tides have now turned. The cyclone has subsided. There is silence now, causing unrest. The storm has faded. The eye that once was impeccable is now worn out. He misses more than he hits. The probability of him performing has now hit an all time low and is languishing well under 0.5. It has invited scorn from every part of the cricketing fraternity. Now, at the top, he is a burden to the team. An albatross the middle order has to bear.
Pummelling his poor form further, he shares a bitter rapport with his captain and had no inhibitions in making it public. The spat worsened things for him and after it, he has been routed every time he took to the crease. The wild heaves have missed the ball and it is the air he’s been chopping. His eyes have betrayed him. He was given a long rope by the selectors, only to hang himself. All that one can do now is to be sorry for Viru, one of the most explosive Test batsmen.
He lacks the technical prowess of Tendulkar to tweak his style to fit the scheme of things. The genius that Tendulkar is, he altered his game altogether, which helped him stay at the top for more years and he did prolong his career. Sehwag needs to do a Sachin now and it sounds a bit over ambitious. His caliber as a batsman has never been under the scanner. He remains his explosive self. In the history of world cricket, a chapter would be reserved for him, for he busted the myths of Test match batting and defined a new genre of batsmanship. There have been attacking batsmen, but no one so intimidating and heavy-scoring. He spelled the death knell for a generation of bowlers and at his peak he was an unstoppable force.
The time is up now, his walk towards the sunset has begun. To him, the bowlers were ducks, lame ducks. He would stamp upon them and gallop through the water. Yet, when the ducks turned venomous and his foot had worn out, all he had to do was wade through them, scrupulously negotiating them. He couldn’t downplay it. He went for the kill and accelerated only to end up in a dead end and the brakes were forced. The prospects looks dull. His comeback sounds exciting, but not viable. This might well be the end of the road for him.
The red turban, the high backlift, the whack he gives to the ball, his banter on the field, the ‘upar cuts’, the slap on the off side would be solely missed. I would narrate to my grandson the triple century in Chepauk against the potent South African attack, the 195 in Melbourne and the taming of Lee, the double century in Sri Lanka against the befuddling Mendis. His ideology of see it and hit it is hard to take, but nevertheless enticing. The fruit ninja he played on the field with the cricket ball sums up his approach to batting. I would mention his name alongside Bradman, Gavaskar, Viv Richards, Lara, Tendulkar, Ponting, Kallis and Dravid with great courage and absolutely no inhibitions. He was up there, right up there. Fingers crossed for his comeback, however distant the dream is.