A cricketer’s retirement is a perfect time to assess his greatness and place in the overall scheme of things. The numbers he stacked up through his career and technical virtuosity are as much the yardsticks as his contribution that made the difference for his team on major occasions.
However, it stayed refreshingly different for Virender Sehwag, who announced his retirement on his 37th birthday on Tuesday.
Among the finest batsmen India has ever produced, it was the irreverence with which he made an impact, again and again, that defined the ‘Nawab of Najafgarh’. While fans respectfully followed a Sachin Tendulkar or Rahul Dravid, there was gay abandon when it came to Sehwag. If he smashed the opposing bowlers all day, that was considered par for the course.
If he fell cheaply, well, Sehwag was too rash! At one level, the Special One among India’s golden generation of batsmen had himself to blame for he made batting look so simple. While he had an amazing connect with the fans, and cocked a snook at anything resembling erudition in the game, he brilliantly couched his cricketing intelligence with comments that made it convenient to paint him as a maverick.
Thus, he would play down the upper cut for six as a “lottery” delivery outside off-stump while everyone gushed about the audacity, the deliberate misses outside the off-stump to ensure a captain did not take an average bowler off the attack would rarely register. The whistling and singing while batting though added to the persona.
Sehwag owed his grand success as much to his clarity of thinking — to him every shot he hit was off a bad delivery — as to his hand-eye co-ordination. The only Indian batsman to score a Test triple century — he did it twice — he was part of two World Cup-winning sides and is one of three Indian batsmen to score a double century in ODIs. With eye-sight and reflexes on the wane, his Test average (49.34) fractionally dipped under 50, the hallmark of great batsmen. But fractions would be the last concern for a man who dealt in fours and sixes, and remained the ultimate entertainer for millions of fans.