Virender Sehwag, the best Indian batsman of all time, retired from all forms of cricket. The cricketer who has probably given us the most amazing memories has gone. Nobody’s retirement has left me so sad and nostalgic as Veeru’s retirement.
The year 1999-00. The worst season for any Indian cricket fan. India lost to South Africa at home. Sachin Tendulkar failed as a captain. Azhar, a favourite for many like me was banned for match-fixing along with Ajay Jadeja. In India, cricketers are Gods. Our faith was deeply shaken. Then came Sourav Ganguly. A stylish southpaw with lot of attitude. Ganguly went on to become the most important leader in the history of Indian cricket mainly because he put together a team with a different attitude. An attitude that fans and analysts didn’t associate with India. Before Ganguly, an Indian cricketer was like Gavaskar-Vengsarkar, technically perfect, with a strong calculative mind, personally ambitious and with a gentlemanly attitude. Nobody associated loud, openly expressive body language and ostensibly aggressive attitude with Indian cricketers. Ganguly’s team changed it. And Sehwag was his main soldier. Nobody has given such Adrenalin-provoking moments to Indian fans as he has. Veeru was entertaining to the core. His success and his failures – were equally entertaining.
The first such moment came when he hit his first century. There was no Tendulkar and Ganguly had asked him to open. Under an overcast Colombo sky, boundaries rained and in no time, we were speculating whether he will break Azhar’s record or not. Finally he didn’t. But all of a sudden, India had found a fluent stroke-player.
The next Sehwag moment also came in Colombo – in September 2002, in the semifinal of ICC Champions Trophy. Against a cruising South African team, Sehwag, in tandem with Harbhajan, used his temporary off-spin and chocked Proteas to another historic defeat.
Veeru had a penchant of hitting big sixes on crucial moments. On the first day of the Boxing Day test in 2003 at Melbourne, he was on the verge of hitting the fastest double hundred by an Indian. He was on 195 and he tried to hit a huge six over the longest boundary in the world, and he failed. He was caught on the boundary. He lost his wicket to the most mediocre bowler from the opposition, Simon Katich. But that’s Veeru for you!
However three months later, in Multan, against Pakistan he didn’t get out. When he was on 99, he hit a huge six over long-on to reach hundred, and some two hundred runs later, when he was on 299, he hit another six to Saqlain Mushtaq and reached his triple century – the first batsman to score a triple century in tests for India. While receiving his man-of-the-match award he said, speaking in Hindi, “I knew I would because my teammates, Laxman (VVS) and all used to say that if anyone can score a triple hundred, its you.” He was so talented and we had so much faith in him that even his most self-praising statements didn’t sound arrogant.
From that point onward Sehwag was a consistent performer in the Indian team. Be it tests or ODIs, Sehwag always delivered. Two years after his Multan heroics, he was facing Pakistan in Bengaluru. Those were tough times for Indian cricket. It was the beginning of the end for Ganguly’s captaincy. Everyone looked ordinary against an efficient Pakistani attack. But Sehwag didn’t compromise with anything – neither with attitude, nor with style and scored a great 201, which in my opinion is his best innings in test cricket. Also a record for the highest score in a losing cause.
On 29th of March, he broke his own record of 309 and scored 319. For the first time in the history of cricket, fans were disappointed when a batsman got out after scoring 319. He looked so much in command for a day and a half that everyone thought he would score 500 runs! At Hamilton in 2009, against New Zealand, he finally broke Azharuddin’s record for the fastest century for India. He broke Tendulkar’s record and scored 219 in an ODI against West Indies. Once again, he got out trying to hit a six. It was only fair that he was part of a world cup winning team in 2011.
That was Sehwag. He showed that you can be stylish, aggressive and uncompromising and still you can score lots of runs. I once heard Gavaskar somewhere that if Sehwag was a bit more selfish, he would score lot many more runs. Maybe he is right. But then, it wouldn’t be Sehwag. Sehwag never wanted to be a run-machine. He was a memory making machine. His cuts, drives and (mostly unsuccessful) hooks, will remain etched on our memories forever. Thanks Veeru Paji!!