Some fairly unlikely things have happened to Virender Sehwag since he retired from professional cricket. For one, he’s the proud owner of a public school in the heart of his home state, Haryana: a school known for the excellence of its sports facilities, among other things.
The other thing – and this is so out of the park that it reminds you of his creative, rule-breaking game – is that he’s become such a social media star, thanks to witty, pithy 140-character jokes on Twitter, that brands are now paying him to tweet.
“I have, in the last six months, made around Rs 30 lakh through my tweets,” says Sehwag, very pleased with himself.
He should be. After all, he signed up on Twitter the way most of us do, just for some social media fun. But unlike most of us, his tweets got funnier and funnier, and now, not only does he have eight million people following his microblogging account, but he’s also spread his wings and become a humorist on YouTube, with a show called Viru Ke Funde that covers everything from how to appease your mother-in-law to how to avoid paying income tax and how to learn English as an adult. (His funda for the last was: “All cricketers who did not speak English, like Kapil, Harbhajan and I, married women who were fluent in it. In front of them, we were not shy of making mistakes, which helped us learn to speak in that language without getting embarrassed.”)
How did this happen?
“These are all jokes we used to crack with friends and in the dressing room,” says Sehwag about his reinvention as social media royalty. “Once I took to Twitter and shared those jokes, they became a huge hit. My following grew and some of the posts got thousands of retweets. With so many shares, money from sponsors followed.”
Sample some of his tweets: “Haazme ki Goli, Rangon ki Holi, Gujarat me Ghagra Choli Aur Batting mein Virat Kohli Poore India ko pasand hai #HappyBirthdayVirat @imVkohli.” And another tweet on the same day: “8 yrs ago we cud have dedicated this day by eating Chikoo. But tday, I think all auto/taxis shud start their Meter frm100 #HappyBirthdayVirat.”
Sehwag may come across as a rustic simpleton, but he’s far from being naïve. Money is important to him – not so much for himself, but for the things it can help him accomplish – so when brands began approaching him to slip in a word or two about them in his tweets, he saw the worth of the idea.
But he promotes brands cleverly, mixing the advertising into his earthy sense of humour. For instance, when Ravindra Jadeja won the Man of the Match award when India played England, Sehwag tweeted that while people are facing problems in these days of demonetisation, Jadeja is likely to get his money transferred straight into his account through Paytm. “Wah Jaddu Bhai! Hamare paas toh 2000 ke chhutte nahi hai aur aap @Paytm mein 1 Lakh le gaye. Thoda hamare Paytm mein bhi transfer kijiye.” Paytm had sponsored the India-England series.
“When I began my life journey, we’d survive on Rs 500 a month as a family,” says Sehwag. “As time passed and I started playing for the country, this Rs 500 multiplied manifold, but it was not the money that mattered, it was the fact that I was fulfilling my ambition of playing cricket on the highest platform, representing my country. That was more satisfying than anything else.”
He did not play for records: hitting a six gave him far more pleasure than scoring a hundred. “I never thought of breaking a record. The only ambition I had was to become the fastest century maker for India, which I did when I broke Azharuddin’s record. If I had planned to score double and triple hundreds, I would probably not have made them ever,” he says.
Today, he is scoring sixes and fours on social media, and this is helping him run his school.
The cricketer had set up the 40-acre Sehwag International School (www.sisj.in; Ph: 9711188700) on the Gurugram-Jhajjar highway in 2011, after then Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda presented him with the lease of the land in recognition of his second triple hundred.
Sehwag had grown up in Najafgarh, a small town near Delhi where his family lived, and finding a good school nearby had been a real struggle. Sehwag remembered his father’s words: “If possible, you should one day set up a school in the village, so that future Sehwags are not lost due to lack of facilities.”
The school is now fully set up and running, situated very close to his village. This is Sehwag’s way of giving back to society what he achieved through playing cricket, so he does not see the school as a profit-making venture.
“I lose around a couple of crores every year on the school, but even if I was to make profit from it, I would never use it for myself,” he says. “I’d plough every penny back into improving facilities for the school. Just as I do with the cricket academies I run around the country. These are not for making money; for that I have other avenues.”
This Is The Man
This is typical behaviour for the man who rewrote the rules of the game, twisting its grammar to create a new idiom that redefined the very foundations of batting.
Irreverent to the core, with no care in the world, he exploded on to the cricketing horizon to hit sixes and fours, with a technique of his own which everyone would love to emulate, but few can follow.
The Sehwag school of batting is now a trademark that evokes awe. His cricketing legacy is unmatchable and even Sachin Tendulkar, speaking at the Hindustan Times Leadership Summit, acknowledged that he had the best seat on the ground (watching him bat at the other end) to admire and appreciate the genius of the man.
“If you wanted him to defend, you had to tell him to hit a six and if you wanted him to hit a six, you had to tell him to be careful,” Tendulkar had said, describing how it was almost impossible to make Sehwag fall in line.
But geniuses don’t fall in line. They just make new lines. In Sehwag’s case, many of those lines are now composed of 140 characters on social media.
Sehwag International School (www.sisj.in; Ph: 9711188700)
From HT Brunch, January 8, 2017
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