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Virender Sehwag's art of attack

HT goes back to Najafgarh's dusty bylanes and Delhi's maidans to trace the route Sehwag took to get his big game into shape. N Ananthanarayanan writes. In a nutshell | Viru uncut | Viru's life

cricket Updated: Feb 17, 2011 16:05 IST
N Ananthanarayanan

The Virender Sehwag portrait is visible despite a rough white coat of paint over it on the humble pavilion wall. A few feet away is a much sharper work of art, a painting of his idol Sachin Tendulkar with face rapt in concentration on the verge of playing a shot.

"The hat spoilt the portrait, so we painted over," says the groundsman at the G-Block Government School in Vikaspuri, on the outskirts of New Delhi. Nothing less than perfection would do at the ground where one of India's great batsmen got his big game into shape. However, the painted-over image is still very much an aspiration destination in the ground. There are black markings on it to measure the height of fresh trainees who join the coaching academy run by AN Sharma dreaming to emulate their idol.

Early swing
From early on, it was not in the nature of the first boy born in the house to sit back and see off a great bowling spell. His near and dear ones insist the joy he finds in the game has not changed much from the time he started swinging a plastic bat as a toddler.

"He used to keep playing cricket all the time," says cousin Lalit Sehwag, five years his senior. "They fixed lights at the government school here in Najafgarh and after that Viru used to keep playing till 1 or 2 am."

"Our aunt used to take a lot of interest. He was her first son after two daughters, so he was very dear to her."

Sehwag's early brush with a more serious level of cricket came with his cousin and friends, who used to let the youngest boy in the bunch be around them. "We used to jump the wall of the Community Centre and play there. That is where Viru started. We used to let him bat, and he used to hit. No one told him. He was a natural."

That he inherited the strong wrists of his father, Kishen, only helped.

Lucky break
The talented boy got lucky in 1990 when cricket coach Sashi started an academy, the Surmount Club, in Najafgarh. Sehwag promptly joined and made rapid strides there, but the coach quickly realised he will never take wings under him, given the cutthroat competition for places in the Delhi age-group squads.

Players under prominent coaches and in big clubs got more of a chance to feature in the team for big tournaments. This, in turn, helped draw the attention of the selectors.

Sehwag used to live next door in the same compound as Lalit, but the house has now been rented out. He lives with his wife and son in South Delhi.

But his cousin, who looks after the family's grain business, insists the man's heart is still in Najafgarh. "His technique has changed over the years, but not his behaviour and humility. Nothing has changed that."

It was in April 1993 that a 14-year-old Sehwag stepped into the Vikaspuri school cricket ground when he was taken to Sharma. It didn't take him too long to be impressed.

"He was an attacking batsman, he was strongly built even then." Initially the coach wanted Sehwag to play along the ground even as the energetic kid looked to hoist the ball over fielders and the boundary. After a while he realised that was Sehwag's strength and looked to nurture it.

"I told him if he wanted to be aggressive, to go ahead."

Bat trick
Sharma says Sehwag never accepted any coaching tip without satisfying himself. He also introduced his new ward to a physical training regime.

"I had a strenuous fitness programme. I gave him the heaviest bat and never allowed him to play with a light bat. This was to develop a strong forearm. We used to fill the cloth cover of the bat with sand and tie it to his bat. And the result was that he used to come back from matches, where he played with a regular blade, and say 'my bat is paperweight'."

Playing with a heavy bat also helped Sehwag time his shots better as sans the weight, his willow would get the spur of muscle memory minus the drag of old. He began to meet the ball real early. Sharma too realised he was dealing with a special talent pretty early. "At school, he used to score 70 plus in almost every match. We knew soon enough that when he was at the crease, we could never lose."

Sehwag, however, did not have it easy. Delhi selectors initially omitted him from the list of 60 probables for the under-19 side. However, the officials were requested to try him out again in a few matches and were impressed. also fondly remembers the mischievous side of Sehwag. Sehwag bowled spin even as a schoolboy cricketer, but Sharma usually left strict instructions that no player should try anything that can lead to injuries. However, that did not stop Sehwag from experimenting before matches if the coach was late in reaching the ground in the morning. "Before I could reach, other boys would humour him by allowing him to bowl a few overs of medium pace as well," he said with a smile. "The thing is that he was never satisfied, was always exploring the game."

Sehwag is still very close to him. Every time he gets a break from the international grind or feels the need to iron out flaws, he is back at the Vikaspuri school. For him it's just about taking sustenance from his roots.