Samir Chopra December 17, 2008

Sehwag's debut

That he survived was not such a mystery

Somewhere out there in bittorrent land is the video of Sehwag's debut innings against South Africa in the 2001 test series. I watched that innings, live on a large screen television, at the Crown Hotel on Cleveland Street in Surry Hills, Sydney, on 3rd November 2001. This past weekend, just because I felt like reliving one of my favorite cricketing memories, I decided to view it again.

I didn't regret that decision and have played the 22-minute long video again and again reminding myself this was someone playing his first Test innings. As far as debut tons go, it is hard to imagine another innings which so definitively sounded an advance warning to the rest of the world that a bright new talent was on the world's stage.

Earlier that day I'd played cricket with my Northern Sydney team, the Centrals, and had enjoyed a good, hard day in the sun. We won our match and shortly afterwards, a friend and I were dropped back in the City center before beginning the walk back home. I knew the Test started in the late afternoon, so we decided to stop off at the Crown for a couple of beers (the atmosphere was all skank, but they had several large televisions). When I checked the score, I was taken aback. India had already slumped to 68-4, and a young debutant was batting at #6, heading out to face the music, to join Sachin Tendulkar in the middle. The partnership that followed was worth 220 runs, and it took all of 46 overs. South Africa did not know what hit them. But fans like us were equally gobsmacked.

I have one abiding memory of that evening. Which was that of sitting in the pub, still wearing my sweaty cricket whites, sore all over from bowling and fielding, drinking my cold beers, stunned by the audacity and brilliance of the Tendulkar-Sehwag partnership. It was hard to believe Sehwag was making his Test debut, hard to believe this lad was playing away from home, dealing with a collapse, and a South African pace attack, at home, in their element. That he survived was not such a mystery. The manner of his survival was the truly revelatory feature: he batted with the solidity of a Mumbai opener, the flair of a Napoleonic hussar, the power of a Bajan middle-order bat. His shot-making was precise and powerful, his demeanor utterly relaxed. He looked like someone playing his 20th Test, playing a role familiar to him.

I should have known more about Virender Sehwag; he is from Delhi, and I followed all Delhi hopefuls' careers with great interest. But all I knew about him was his reputation as a power hitter. I had thought of him as a one-day type. But this innings convinced me he was radically different. Seven years on, he's already done enough to convince me he is moving into the pantheon of Indian greats. If the Indian team had not wasted so many of his stellar efforts over the years, his place would have been assured a few years ago.

There are plenty of writers in the cricket world that love to dismiss Sehwag as a slogger, a mere stand-n-hit type. These slaves of technique, of the cold logic of the cricketing manual, of the merely conventional, are denied the pleasure of being able to appreciate this man's talent. That is their loss.

For all of us, the rest, those that enjoy the contact of bat and ball, and the changing of games' fortunes by singular talents, Viru is a delight. May he continue to entertain and astonish for years to come.

Samir Chopra lives in Brooklyn and teaches Philosophy at the City University of New York. He tweets here