Redefined the opener's role in stunning style

No one dictated the course of a game like Sehwag did for India

Redefined the opener's role in stunning style

“He didn't redefine his game because of his batting position. He redefined the position with his batting.” This tribute by former India coach John Wright a few years ago perfectly captured Virender Sehwag the batsman supreme.

Asked to open the innings in only his sixth Test at Lord’s in 2002, though he had batted all his life in the middle-order till then, Sehwag went on to revolutionise the way the openers approached their innings in the traditional format. It didn’t matter how the pitches were and who the bowlers were. He made mockery of the conditions and destroyed reputations. Not for him the theory of ‘give first hour to the bowlers, and the next five will be yours.’ His philosophy of batting was simple -- ‘see ball, hit ball.’

Yet Sehwag’s batting remained incomprehensible for the simple reason that a batsman, who always flirted with danger, could find so much success at the top of the order – when the ball is new and hard, the bowlers are fresh and the conditions are usually hostile. The great Viv Richards perhaps batted with as much aggression but then he wasn’t an opener.

“To paraphrase Mark Twain, the report of my retirement yesterday (Monday) was exaggerated! However, I have always done what I felt was right and not what conformists thought to be right,” said Sehwag in the opening remarks of his retirement statement.

Sehwag couldn’t have been any closer to the truth. His batting style frustrated the purists while his straight-from-the-heart statements angered (remember his Bangladesh-are-ordinary-Test team remark?) and entertained in equal measure. He wasn’t a rebel in the strict sense of the word but he never either lived by the set rules. He had a mind of his own and he let it dictate terms.

Indeed, nobody dictated the course of an innings or a game like Sehwag did. Whether it was his 278-ball 300 against South Africa during India’s first innings in 2008 or his game-changing 68-ball 83 in the final session of fourth day’s play against England during the successful chase of 387 the same year, both games incidentally played in Chennai, are just two examples of his ability to turn the game on its head. Sachin Tendulkar may have more hundreds and Rahul Dravid may have accumulated more runs but Sehwag was as valuable to the side as anyone of his generation.

It’s also intriguing that a batsman so outrageous didn’t find as much success in the shorter version. A tally of 8273 runs at an average of just over 35 over 251 ODIs is pretty ordinary for a batsman of his type. On the contrary he averages close to 50, impressive by modern-day standards, over 104 Tests. He is the only Indian with a Test triple hundred (he has two of them in fact). He is also one of the three Indians to score an ODI double ton.

Indian cricket fans perhaps had become accustomed to the absence of Sehwag’s fireworks at the top of the tree for some time now. His last ODI was in January 2013 while he played his final Test three months later, against Pakistan and Australia respectively. We knew there was little chance of him making another comeback yet we longed for one last signature Sehwag innings.

Much like his batting, uncluttered and uncomplicated, he quit international cricket and the Indian Premier League in the same fashion -- by issuing a nicely-worded statement on what happened to be his 37th birthday. The announcement was on the cards but yet there was a sense of disbelief. There won’t be any of those upper cuts over the slip cordon or the crunchy punches through the cover. There won’t be those rasping cuts past the point or the audacious slogs over mid-wicket. Batting will never be the same again without Sehwag. The memories will last for a life-time though.

 

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