Even though he was not playing for India anymore and there seemed little or no possibility of his being recalled, the news that Virender Sehwag has retired from cricket has all of a sudden made my eyes go moist.
This feeling of a void, that too left by a cricketer’s retirement, can’t be explained in words. This just goes to show that Sehwag was more than a mere batsman in our imagination, unlike most others who have played for their country. He meant much more.
And why this is so is as difficult to explain as his uncomplicated onslaught on the best of bowlers, with a batting technique that many scoffed at, till he actually succeeded. It was unthinkable for the experts and coaches to believe that a man who would hardly move his feet and cared little about the grammar of batting, could make runs in international cricket.
In his first international match at Mohali against the pace of Shoaib Akhtar, Sehwag floundered. Even as commentators nodded their heads in smug agreement that only meant “we told you so,” the batsman himself had not thrown in the towel. He had never faced bowlers as quick as the ones he could not handle in that one-day match and it made him more determined to succeed at that level.
He returned to Delhi and the first thing he did was to get his basics corrected. Bowlers, from a much shortened distance than the length of the wicket, were made to bowl to him, his only goal being to sharpen his responses and reflexes so that he could not get beaten by real pace.
When we talk today of the gifted Sehwag, the lightning reflexes and wonderful eye-hand coordination that helped him to literally swoop at length balls and smack them to the ropes, we forget the sweat, blood and tears that went behind the scenes to make it all look so easy.
Sehwag had no gift of the gab. He was no street-smart cricketer who would cosy up to those in power and in return be cushioned against harsh criticism. He would say what he saw, that too in limited words. His batting was an extension of that persona. The only difference being while off the field he was conservative, on it he was expansive.
He put no limit, no curbs on his instincts that told him that aggression is the better part of valour. The wonder was not only that he succeeded, but that he did it with flair, dash, speed and panache that stunned his opponents. They could not understand how he could pull off so many outstanding innings, which took ones breath away for the sheer audacity with which he tamed the best of bowlers.
If Viv Richards before him was the original master blaster who had twisted and turned the grammar of batting to suit his style, Sehwag was no less when it came to force the bowlers to change their views on what batting was all about. Unlike Richards, brute force was not his strength. Yet he could cut and drive the ball with equal ferocity and do so for long periods of time. The big scores, the triple hundreds, the double hundreds he has scored is testimony to his stamina and desire to leave a lasting imprint on the matches he played.
When the history of the post-Sehwag era is written, there will have to be an acknowledgement of the fact that it was Sehwag, just like Richards before him, who changed the way batting was perceived. In this era of T20 where so many new strokes are being introduced that challenge traditional batting techniques, Sehwag will always be remembered as a path-breaker who gave rise to a new breed of cricketers: Fearless in mind, relaxed in body and ready to flirt with unimaginable risks.