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A boy grows up watching his Idol destroy world class bowlers with consummate ease and perfection, and just while going through the initial struggling phase that most new entrants go through, he is suddenly asked to carry out the daunting task of filling in his Idol’s shoes at the top of the order. What happens next? The confident boy stands up to the occasion and blasts seventh fastest century in the history of one-day cricket and the second fastest by a countryman. A sun bathed Sinhalese Sports Club witnesses a powerful Blitzkrieg as an intrepid warrior single-handedly powers his team into the finals of the Coca-Cola Cup with a stupendous 69-ball century against New Zealand on 2nd August 2001.
Two months later, the dream takes wings as he destroys South Africa in its own backyard on a fast and bouncy Bloemfontein pitch with a flawless 173-ball 105 on Test debut and the icing on the cake being the revival of team’s fortunes with a 220-run stand with his idol, who went on to score his 26th ton, after walking in at 68 for 4.
Three years later displays tremendous temperament and scores first Triple-century in Tests by a countryman, scoring an epic 309 against Pakistan at Multan and four years later betters it with fastest triple-century (off 278 balls) against South Africa at Chennai.
Three more years later he does the unthinkable, becomes only the second person on the planet to score a double century (219 off 149 balls) in One-day Internationals against the West Indies at the Holkar Stadium, Indore with amazing display of breath-taking strokes, records highest ever individual ODI score surpassing his Idol’s 200*, equals his Idol’s record of highest number of boundaries hit in a one-day international innings, becomes the fastest countryman to score an ODI 150, taking only 112 balls.
Yes this is a story of a boy who went on to become the Nawab, Nawab of Najafgarh, Virender Sehwag, and there has been no looking back since then, traumatizing the opposition bowlers with some world class stroke play, piling on heaps of records, changing the way the game is played, bringing in a whole new dimension.
Experts say technique is the most important tool that helps you survive in test cricket, but only one person defies such kind of laws, with minimal footwork and technique, mind-boggling hand-eye co-ordination, breath-taking power hitting (not slog but proper cricketing shots), and tons of self-belief, Sehwag has proved his geniuses and worth over and over again all these years succeeding on every surface: South Africa, Australia, West Indies, Sri Lanka, Pakistan.
Out of his 7980 career Test runs, 7628 runs have come against top flight teams like Australia, Pakistan, South Africa, England, New Zealand, Pakistan, West Indies and Sri Lanka. The similarity with his idol, Sachin Tendulkar doesn’t end here, like him he has scored maximum career Test runs against a champion team like Australia, 1596, at a healthy average of 48.36. Amongst the overseas countries, he has scored his maximum career runs in Australia, 833 runs from 7 matches at a staggering average of 59.50.
Calmness personified, he is a silent assassin for the opposition, the one who can take wind out of their sails with aesthetically pleasing stroke play. Intrepidity is something which comes natural to him, Imagine you are a batsman playing a Boxing day test at the MCG in Australia, not out on 189 with a chance of a lifetime to score a double hundred down under. What would you do next; the conspicuous plan would be to play cautiously, score gentle hurdles and reach the milestone in the safest way possible. But this was not the case with Sehwag, as he bludgeoned Simon Katich for a towering six on 189 and then tried to repeat the feat next ball but holed out to long on with his personal score reading 195 an agonizing five runs short of his first double. 195 off 233 balls was one of his best innings’ which included 25 fours and five bludgeoned sixes. The next stop was Multan where he created history by becoming the first Indian to score a triple century in Tests, the amazing fact about his innings was, he got to his half-century with a boundary on 47, century with a four and a six on 95, 150 with a boundary on 147, 300 with a six off Saqlain Mushtaq on 295.
This is what Sachin Tendulkar had to say about the advice given to him when he was on 295
“Well, we talked about not playing rash strokes. Of course, he hears me but I’m not sure if he ever listens”.
Nothing had changed during his World Record innings of 219 off 149 balls against West Indies at the Holkar Cricket Stadium, Indore as he brought up his half-century with a monstrous six over long-on on 49, century with a risky air-bound boundary over point on 96, and 200 with a powerfully slashed boundary over Gully on 197.
Earlier, India’s hopes of chasing a target of 250 or 270 in tests on a deteriorating fourth and fifth day pitch rested solely on the one player, Sachin Tendulkar, a brisk start coupled with sensible batting by the middle order was the need of the hour. The openers failed on the first part on most occasions, while the middle order then had to resurrect the innings making sure that the match is not lost, playing out a draw. But with advent of Sehwag, entire scenario has changed.
14th December 2008, MA Chidambaram Stadium, Chepauk, Chennai, England set India a stiff target of 387 from 126 overs in the first Test. Any other day it would have been case of survival for three and a half sessions and making sure that the team doesn’t lose, but Sehwag had other ideas as he embarked on a massive run chase with a blistering 83 off just 68 balls with eleven hits to the fence and four over it. Anderson and Harmison were pummeled all over the park before he missed out on a sweep off Swann.
But the damaged had already been done with 256 runs required on the final day, India were always ahead of the rate. The rest was taken care of by the Master (103*) as he helped India chase down highest fourth innings total in an Asian Test. But it was the crucial innings of 83 from Sehwag that helped him earn the man of the match award.
Even in the recently concluded third and final Test against West Indies at Wankhede, it was the perfect brisk start of 60 off 65 deliveries that gave India the confidence to attempt a tricky chase of 243 off 64 overs on a typical fifth day Wankhede minefield, the match was eventually drawn with the match ending with the scores level for only the second time in history.
Strong Mental character and power of will separates him from the other flamboyant batsmen. Every cricketer goes through a rough phase at some point or other in his career, but a champion is one who battles it with courage and patience and comes out a winner. After a string of languid performances against South Africa in 2006, he was left out of Tests for a year, but he sprung back in style with 151 (second innings after comeback) against Australia at Adelaide and fastest triple century (319) off just 278 deliveries at Chennai, joining Don Bradman and Brian Lara on the list of players making two scores in excess of 300, 201* out of 329 runs by the team against Sri Lanka at Galle, the famous 83 off 68 balls chasing 387, followed by India’s fastest individual ODI century off 60 deliveries against New Zealand at Hamilton.
One thing that never ceases to amaze even his critics is his ability to convert his brisk starts to humongous scores. Largely considered a limited-over batsman, ironically, his Test average is much better than his ODI average! He averages 52.15 in Tests as compared to 35.04 in ODI’s.
14 of his last 18 Test hundreds have been 150 plus: 109, 165, 109,109,173, 293, 131, 201 not out, 319, 151, 180, 254, 201, 173, 164, 155, 309, 195. He became the first Indian to score a triple century (309 v Pakistan at Multan 2004) and became only the third batsman in history of Test cricket to score two triple centuries, alongside Sir Don Bradman and Brian Lara when he blasted 319 against South Africa at Chennai. He came agonizingly close to scoring the third against Sri Lanka at the Brabourne stadium in 2009 but fell short by just 7 runs, in process scoring most runs by an Indian in a day (284).
He has staggering second highest strike rate of 82.12 in Test matches, behind Afridi’s 86.97, higher than the ODI strike rates of such acknowledged greats such as Ricky Ponting, Brian Lara, Inzamam ul Haq, Aravinda de Silva and Mark Waugh to name just a few. A true match winner he has the third highest average for India in winning cause in tests with 3201 runs from 37 matches at an average of 57.16 with seven 100’s & sixteen 50’s. He is well ahead of flamboyant batsmen like Afridi and Gilchrist averaging 37.50 and 54.83 respectively in a winning cause for their respective teams. Amazingly, 14 out of his 15 ODI centuries have won India the match.
Not only his batting, but his gentle off-spinners have amassed a combined 131 wickets in both forms of the game. His first ever man of the match award was courtesy of brilliant all-round performance of 58 off 54 balls and 3/59 on 25th March 2001 against Australia at M Chinnaswamy Stadium, Bangalore in the first ODI of the five match series. May it be Tests, ODI’s or T20’s; you can be rest assured that a complete all-round package will always on offer to the team when the Nawab of Najafgarh enters the field.
He is probably the next best thing to happen to Indian cricket after Sachin Tendulkar!
The next time when you witness an Interspersed field, a bamboozled opposition captain, a grief-stricken bowler, exhausted fielders and a berserk crowd, you don’t need to glance at the scorecard, just start chanting Viru… Viru…Viru…