The twittering of birds, the cawing of crows and the resonant sound of hard leather striking the willow break the peace and calm of a school playground. It is hard to imagine that this place, where men and boys in white flannels sweat it out, is just minutes away from the maddening cacophony of honking, shrieking cars which make Delhi a nightmare for commuters.
It is here on Tuesday evening that world cricket’s most lethal striker of the ball is unleashing the might and power of his strokes in the nets. There is no sign of the shoulder injury that has kept Virender Sehwag away from international cricket. The faster the ball comes to him, the faster it is dispatched.
He bats for nearly an hour before a TV reporter makes his entry. He captures his own feat of bowling to the man whom the best in the world fear to bowl to and only then settles down to record the player’s comments.
Sehwag answers every query with poise. No, he has had no fight with Dhoni.
The captain knew about his injury well in advance.
He has said no to India’s vice-captaincy because he wants a young and rightful aspirant to be groomed for the job. He has not said no to captaincy, otherwise he would not have agreed to lead the Rest of India and if, say Dhoni is injured and he is asked to lead, he would say yes. He tells him that the worst part of being out of cricket is the boredom — it is killing — but he has utilised this period in getting back to peak fitness.
The interview done, Sehwag peals off the mike tagged to his T-shirt and readies for more questions as he moves towards me. An apologetic smile lights up his face on being told that he has already answered whatever I wanted to know. “Oh, is that so,” he mutters and then, in lighter vein, says that the reporter has got what he wanted. “You will see tomorrow’s news flashing that Sehwag is still interested in leading India.”
What is the truth then? He has a very pragmatic answer. “Look I am 30 and it is unlikely that I will be made captain once Dhoni’s reign is over. It is better that India groom someone who they think this responsibility can be passed on to at a later stage. I have led India before. When Dravid quit, I was not part of the team so there was no question in my being made the captain. At this stage there is no point in my being vice-captain.”
Sehwag, is from Najafgarh, a boy from a Delhi suburb and because of that, many probably think he is naïve, not given to thinking or introspection. But of late he has acted more like a statesman, one who cares for the sport’s future, and his stand against Delhi’s establishment reflects a strong mind, one not afraid to speak up for players.
Isn’t he worried that he risks the establishment’s wrath by speaking up against them?
The fear of retaliation does not worry him. He says he spoke for the players and not for himself. “I thought, before it gets too late, let me speak.” He is also very clear in his mind that as long as he performs, his place in the team is secure. “I know the day I fail I will be dropped and justly so. Therefore, I am not too bothered about the repercussions as long as I speak for the good of the game and not be selfish and speak for my own interests.”
“If the reports that I was moving to Haryana because of being given land for an academy were true, I would have quietly slipped away, sought a transfer from the board without making any fuss.”
Does he believe that the Delhi mess has been sorted out?
He says he has had fruitful talks with Arun Jaitley and things should improve. What if they don’t? “Well, I still retain the option of walking out,” is his answer.
He has been practicing at different academies in Delhi just to unearth new talent so that he can recommend them for state teams. “If I find a junior cricketer bowling well and troubling me at the nets, I am sure to press for his inclusion in the junior team,” he says.
The talk comes back to his oft-discussed technique and his answer is uncomplicated, much like the man himself. “Lack of footwork does not bother me. I know my strengths. I can read the bowler well and choose my strokes accordingly. Besides, where are the seaming wickets where a lack of footwork becomes a problem? “
More than anything else though, it is his mental strength and a belief in his abilities that has given him the confidence to be himself.
“I am mentally very strong and don’t fear failures. I can face any challenge and am confident of overcoming them.”
Sehwag today is no longer just a rare batting star. He is a man who has a desire to help his fellow players even if the pursuit of that means ruffling a few important feathers. Can one say this for many Indian players?