CHENNAI: Statisticians trust numbers. Wise men facts. The connoisseurs aesthetics. The analysts match-winning feats. Virender Sehwag pleased them all, to varying degrees, but his most significant contribution could be in the manner in which he re-defined or deconstructed the approach of an opener in Tests, in a sense creating a new orthodoxy. If contemporary openers have a derring-do worldview —and no longer are they viewed freaks or anomalies — Sehwag played a more than crucial role in this perception-busting.
There were batsmen and openers before Sehwag who embraced such cavalry. Viv Richards, or from a more recent era Michael Slater, Chris Gayle, Matthew Hayden, Brian Lara, Sanath Jayasuriya, David Warner and Brendon McCullum. But nobody, apart from the Caribbeans, managed it with the audacity and frequency of Sehwag. Then Richards and Lara opened just twice in Tests, and generally paid reverence to bowlers and conditions in the first hour.
Not with Sehwag. Instead of caution and occupation of crease as a means of removing the ball’s shine, Sehwag made it abrade by hitting it beyond the boundary, as hard and as often as possible. He kept batting irreducibly simple — see ball, hit ball. An uncluttered philosophy, though not that simple in execution, and executing it prolifically. “It’s not as easy as that. For that you need a clear mind and confidence that you can execute it, against all bowlers in all conditions, besides great hand-eye coordination. Even from a young age, he had those gifts,” said former opener Chetan Chauhan, who watched Sehwag from close since teens.
Maybe, some are just born with such instincts, but he nuanced it to an unthinkable level. He must have come across skeptical coaches and seniors, who censured his methods. That he stuck with what he reckoned was best for him testifies the tremendous belief he had in himself. Sehwag takes a nonchalant view of it. “I apologise for not accepting most of it! It’s because I did it my way.” After blazing 17,253 international runs, two triple hundreds, four double centuries, an ODI double century, he has the luxury to speak thus.
It was not always just about statistical skyscrapers or the sheer thrill of watching Sehwag eviscerate bowlers with disorderly magnificence but he did so with a leisurely routine, humming songs and whistling tunes. “His greatest contribution is the number of matches he won. When you look at most of India’s win in the last decade, there was Sehwag to set the tone,” pointed out former batsman Pravin Amre.
It was not only the monumental hundreds that changed games, but also the breezy knocks like the 68-ball 83 against England chasing 387 on a slow Chepauk wicket in 2008. That he was adjudged Man of the Match, despite three centurions, demonstrated his impact. And that perhaps is the word that best describes him — the impact man amidst a maestero, a consummate artiste and a grand technician. He did it his way!