Sehwag misses saying goodbye
The selectors messed it up: the Delhi cricketer should have been told he was being omitted so that he could have played a farewell match in his home town
Sandeep Kumar Delhi
Doesn’t a player who has played 12 to 13 years for his country deserve a farewell match? The question should never have arisen about Virender Sehwag, and it is even more distressing that he himself was forced to ask the question. After he was dropped from the national team by the selectors, early this month Sehwag announced his retirement from international cricket in both the Test and one-day formats, and said he was also retiring from the Indian Premier League (IPL).
In a statement to a news channel, Sehwag in his trademark style counter-attacked the decision of the selectors, “The sadness of being deprived of a farewell game shall always remain in my mind. Had the selectors told me that they were going to drop me, I could have requested them to allow me to play my last Test in Delhi and then announce my retirement, but they did not give me that opportunity.”
Sehwag is affectionately called the Nawab of Najafgarh, a suburb of Delhi. In his prime he was regarded as one of the most dangerous batsmen in the world; known as someone who could destroy the entire bowling attack of a team single-handedly. Unchanged between formats, his style of play gave him a spot among the players fans call the Fab Five: Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sourav Ganguly are the other four. Amongst these names, he holds the record for the three highest individual scores for India in Test cricket (319, 304 and 293) and he is the only player in Indian Test cricket history to score a triple century – not once but on two occasions.
Now, Sehwag finds his name in another shortlist of names, players who found themselves denied a farewell Test for one reason or another. Former India captain Mohammed Azharuddin, after playing 99 Tests, wasn’t allowed to play number 100 because of his alleged involvement in match-fixing. Similarly, Waqar Younis was unceremoniously sacked after being unable to take the Pakistani side beyond the first round of the 2003 World Cup.
As far as the Fab Five are concerned, Ganguly and Tendulkar received the big farewell, with media in tow; however, Laxman and Dravid chose to retire without the big send-off.
It is not a frivolous claim that Sehwag is one of the most exciting batsmen ever. He revolutionised the modern Test match approach with thundering shots. His approach was primal, playing with the “see the ball, hit the ball” instincts best described by American baseball star Pete Rose. Often compared to Vivian Richards, Sehwag was indeed one of the most exciting batsmen to watch of the last two decades. When he was in form, it didn’t matter if the bowler was having the spell of his lifetime; if Sehwag decided to hit him for six, not even the gods could save him. His lack of footwork on the bouncy overseas conditions, which, surprisingly, didn’t trouble him against the moving ball, was a boon in disguise for the Delhi dasher.
The most remarkable aspect of Sehwag’s career has been the breathtaking speed of his scoring. The reputation of the bowler didn’t matter to him at all. Be it a fast or a medium pacer, he was on his toes on every occasion. The sight of a spinner made him more ferocious, and the run carnage often led to assaults that will go down in cricketing history. On seven out of 10 occasions, Sehwag would whack a four or six on the very first ball of the match, be it an ODI or Test.
His numbers are up there with the very best. With 104 Test caps, he has scored 8,586 runs, with a healthy average of 49.34. He logged 23 centuries, including two triple 100s and four double 100s. In the list of batsmen to have scored 6,000 Test runs, he has a strike rate of over 80 and stands more than 10 points higher than the next best man. He outstrips all-time greats such as Richards, Tendulkar, Brian Lara, Sanath Jayasuriya and others.
His first century came on his debut Test against the Proteas in Bloemfontein, the capital city of Free State in South Africa. Sharing the pitch with Tendulkar, he matched him stroke for stroke and went on to score a ton. Sehwag has not only been a big hitter but consistently so; he has scored in diverse conditions such as Nottingham, Melbourne, Chennai, Lahore, and Galle. However, he relished games with India’s arch rivals, Pakistan. “Had India played two more Test series against Pakistan, I could have completed 10,000 Test runs. If you see my batting averages particularly against Pakistan, you will find my batting averages between 90 and 100,” wrote Sehwag in his retirement statement. In nine matches against the neighbours, he scored 1,276 runs at an average of 91.14. The walloping included a triple century, which earned him the nickname of ‘Sultan of Multan’ in that city, as well as two double 100s in Bengaluru and Karachi, respectively.
Throughout his career, his aggressive bat mocked the best bowlers in the world. He enjoyed what Shane Warne threw at him, smashed Shoaib Akhtar beyond long off, with a straight bat countered the speed of Brett Lee and Dale Steyn, and forced Saqlain Mushtaq to switch from doosra to tisra.
His ODI career doesn’t reflect as many high graphs and stats, but he held the record for the highest score in ODI format for a particular period, scoring a remarkable 219 against the West Indies in Indore in 2011. He is one of only two players in the world to score a double 100 in ODIs and a triple 100 in Test cricket, the other being Chris Gayle.
Sehwag was dropped from the Indian team during the Australian tour of India in 2013 on grounds of his poor batting form. Over the next few years, his form did not improve and with age betting against him, he could not keep up with youngsters such as Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane vying for team berths in the extremely competitive world of cricket.
Ordinary performances in the Ranji Trophy in the past few seasons and a lacklustre show in the IPL made Sehwag’s return to the national team impossible, resulting in an abrupt end to such a glorious career.
Sehwag’s on-field duels with Shoaib Akhtar, Michael Clarke, Glenn McGrath, Wasim Akram and Shahid Afridi will remain everlasting memories in the hearts and minds of fans. Sehwag has carved a niche for himself with his great hand-eye coordination to become India’s most destructive opening batsman of the present era. He made a place for himself despite playing in the shadows of Tendulkar and Dravid and was a sheer delight to watch. It won’t be wrong to say that the fans prayed to see Tendulkar bat on the crease but wanted Sehwag to score the bulk of the runs.
Without question, he deserved his swan song.