Virender Sehwag's 100th Test November 22, 2012

'Hit the ball, enjoy the sound'

Virender Sehwag's unorthodox style and approach to the game has redefined Test batting at the top and his impact for India and on world cricket should outlast his recent slump in overseas form

If it were possible, Virender Sehwag would have gone from 94 Tests to 100 in one match. That's what he usually wants to do once he reaches 94 in a Test innings. Even if it means risking getting stumped on 99 to a debutant spinner. If he had hit a six of caps when 94 not out, Sehwag fans - and I am one of them - would have been able to stop facts from coming in the way of a good story.

Those facts that were driven home during his struggles in Australia. Hard as you tried, you couldn't live in denial and shrug it off by saying, "That's the way he plays." There, he even tried to buckle down for the team's good but was simply not good enough. Against the moving, bouncing new ball, his minimal footwork proved inadequate. The bowlers no longer feared bowling to him, especially if they could get it to rise rib high or move after pitching. With every confused dismissal, Sehwag reminded you he had gone from Adelaide to Adelaide without a century outside Asia in four years.

During the same period, though, Sehwag delighted with his dominance in Asia. He scored his second triple-century, in Chennai, plundered 293 of the most delightful runs in Mumbai, 201 of the most difficult ones in Galle, and even Usain-Bolted the record for the highest score in ODIs, a format he has never quite mastered. On numerous other occasions Sehwag stole results from the jaws of draws through his strike-rate in India's first innings. Often he targeted the best bowlers in the opposition so hard he practically eliminated them. To overlook this impact will be to stop facts from coming in the way of a depressing story.

The Sehwag story is anything but depressing. It is, for the most part, one of unabashed joy, of lack of inhibition, of a reminder that nine fielders can cover only so much of the field, of redefining good and bad balls, of playing scarcely believable shots with a bat only whose inside edge is visible to the bowler, of daring left-arm spinners to give up negative tactics with the promise that he will hit them for a six off the first ball they bowl from round the stumps, of pulling through mid-off to counter deep-square fields and short and wide bowling and later saying he can't play boring cricket, of failing when trying to go from 195 to 201 in one hit but still trying it in future at 295, of a reminder that cricket is just a sport after all.

You might look at Sehwag struggling in certain conditions - for just four of his 12 years, lest it be forgotten - and flourishing in certain others (you just can't ignore the number of big centuries he has scored at that strike rate) and call him a product of his times. You couldn't be more wrong.

Sehwag is not a product of his time; his times are a product of him. That's one box ticked for sure on the greatness list. He didn't just redefine opening in Tests, he did so without being an opener by training. You see openers - Watson, Gayle, Dilshan, Warner - trying to intimidate bowlers today. Sehwag started it. And he started it when asked to open the innings because the Indian middle order, his preferred station, was too packed. He gave meaning to the vague term "staying beside the line of the ball". To do it once in a while is okay, but you don't do it with his alarming regularity by fluke. He has scored six centuries at more than a run a ball, and taken three of them past 250. Three of the five fastest double-centuries, and five of the top 10, belong to him. He has done it not through brute strength, but through delightful manipulation of fields.

"You just react to the ball. If the ball is there to be hit, you just hit it. Don't worry that this is a Test or one-dayer or T20. You just hit it. Because it's your routine. You are not worried about 'what if I get out'. You are not worried about a four or a sixer, one or two. You just hit the ball. And enjoy the sound."
Virender Sehwag's take on batting

Sehwag batted as if meditating. "You just react to the ball," he once told me. "If the ball is there to be hit, you just hit it. Don't worry that this is a Test or one-dayer or T20. You just hit it. Because it's your routine. Every time you practise in the nets, you just go and see the ball and hit the ball. You are not worried about 'what if I get out'. You are not worried about a four or a sixer, one or two. You just hit the ball. And enjoy the sound. At the end of the day if you hit the ball or defend the ball, you love the sound that comes when the ball hits the bat."

Sehwag had me by then. As if enlightened, I added: "And that sound won't come when you are leaving the ball…" Like an arithmetic teacher who had just shown me how to add two and two, he smiled benevolently and said: "Exactly."

How simple life would have been if the man who brought us batting nirvana didn't frustrate us so. If he hadn't picked the IPL over Tests in the West Indies and England. This was Dylan gone electric. Perhaps Sehwag thought he could fit it all in. Perhaps he thought he could get the best of both worlds: take the IPL money, play Tests in England and give the West Indies a miss. Perhaps he did become a product of his time after all. He is no god, he is human like all of us. If he did pick money over Tests, perhaps he should be allowed to make all the money he wants. "Don't worry this is Test or one-day or T20," he said, remember?

When it comes to judging greatness, though, history won't be as kind. It will tell you Sehwag had one good tour each of Australia, England, South Africa and New Zealand, and followed them up with a bad one to each of those countries. He is a man who made a mockery of statistics but will not be allowed to hide behind them, behind that average of 51 after 99 Tests.

We, though, will rate him by his impact, by his innovation, by his entertainment. Sehwag has brought us all of that, except only in certain conditions over the last third of his career. On the eve of his 100th Test appearance, do we let that last third outside Asia cloud our view of Sehwag? Or do we look beyond the immediate and revel in all the joy he has brought us over the rest of his career? Or do we see his hundred in his 99th Test as yet more proof of his positive attitude, that he can come back from all that and start stealing results from the jaws of draws as if nothing was amiss?

We know what Sehwag would do. Take a deep breath, sing a tune to himself, try to clear his mind of all thoughts, and just see the next ball and hit it. And enjoy the sound.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Shipu on November 25, 2012, 14:05 GMT

    Sehweg is an ordinary player.

  • Dummy4 on November 23, 2012, 9:51 GMT

    Is not joy the objective of life, of sport, in this he is a master, he doesnt train hard, he isnt complicated hes like the Osho of cricket. Celebration, Meditation, hes pure andif hes happy who are we to judge, just be grateful for the joy of seeing a natural genius.

  • Khokan on November 23, 2012, 4:30 GMT

    He is the one of best player of the world for all format.He is strong and perfect for every format of cricket.I love his batting style and way of thinking.And his main strategy is to increase the score of overal not in individual score.

  • Senehas on November 23, 2012, 4:25 GMT

    Sehwag playing 100 test matches is not a big deal...He is a good player NOT a great player...Sachin is the only Great player in this Indian Team...having a 50 average in test match Cricket and a good strike rate doesn't mean he is great...I rate Lakshman more than this guy in Test match Cricket...He has done lot of things to Indian Cricket....

  • sumon on November 23, 2012, 4:08 GMT

    I don't understand why selectors drop viru when he does fail to to score runs. It happens to everyone. Chris Gayle didn't manage to score three consecutive test innings recently against Bangladesh, you can't drop him from next match against a good team like AUS or SA on the basis of the performance with Bangladesh. Selectors of Indian cricket team should take an advantage over opponent team by using the aggression of viru. Because I believe that no bowlers in world cricket who do not scare to bowl to viru.............. go on viru...........we love uuuuuuuuuuu...............

  • Ramchand on November 23, 2012, 3:24 GMT

    @Rohit1964, While I agree with you that Sandip Patil as an explosive batsman, please read the article in the link below, to see what made the difference

  • N on November 23, 2012, 3:24 GMT

    @ Uppercut07: There was K.Srikanth before Jayasuriya and I am sure a few others before him. But no one revolutionaized test batting like Sehwag did and definitely not as effectively. It's all in the simplicity of the mindset (you won't see Sehwag become a politician when he retires :)). And then there is that boring argument people keep making about flat tracks. Who cares? Sehwag is the one of the most effective modern batsmen on flat tracks and simply the most entertaining on all tracks (he has scored centuries in England, Aus, SA and NZ all at an amazing strike rate). I am just thankful he plays for India.

  • vineet on November 23, 2012, 1:28 GMT

    congratulations VIRU for a gr8 career...the man who has revolutionarised test batting....come on viru we are waiting for another triple century...just hit it and let ur critics burn :D

  • VaRUN on November 22, 2012, 23:41 GMT

    I wonder if he also enjoyed the sound of leading edge, inside edge and thick edges catches to slips and point in England and Australia.

  • abdul mannan on November 22, 2012, 21:48 GMT

    Sidharth monga got it right. Sehwag is genius.A genius like no other in the last 10 years.Much of the success that India enjoyed in the last decade is mainly due to the exploits of this man.The success that Tendulkar,Dravid and Laxman enjoyed as batsman and Dhoni as a captain was courtesy this busy batsman.He single handedly destroyed the best bowlers from the opposite teams as an opener so that the others who followed him in batting order found it easy at the wicket.A case in point is how he destroyed Umar gul in the semi final of the last one day world cup. Shewag is truly a genius.I would actually put him ahead of even Tendulkar as he has contributed to more victories for India than anybody including Tendulkar. We can actually prolong his international cricket career if Dhoni and Company accede to his request to play him as a middle order bat.I hope good sense prevails and this genius can enjoy his batting in the middle order.And so we will.l

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