October 20, 2015

A wild animal of batting

There are batsmen you can explain, whose magic you can unravel. Virender Sehwag was not one of them

Sehwag: an experience that grabs you © Getty Images

There is a flash. It's up and over a bunch of slips, maybe a gully, and a third man. The ball just disappears up, out of sight, before dropping over the rope. The third man is puffing hard, but this wasn't for him. There is a frustrated, faceless bowler, an unspecified ground and a generic captain rubbing his forehead.

As it happens you can hear whispers of the batsman being compared to Sachin. But that is unfair. This is something different.

There are some things that shouldn't be explained. Maybe that's why we don't get Victor Trumper. We search for answers, facts, numbers and reasons. For some people that doesn't work; you have to see them, feel them. They are part of a time and place you don't get. You are not meant to understand what they stood for, just know that it was something special through all the witnesses.

Yet, even when you weren't there, you had no context, no visuals, no memories, no experience; he could still move you. Sometimes it was the actual numbers alone. Just starting at a scorecard, there was an experience of him that just grabs you. The man who wore no number, could with a simple 200 out of 330, give you a sudden rush of blood, that slight, magical dizzy feel of something you can't quite explain.

There are some who say he only makes runs on Asian flat tracks. It feels like abusing a painter for preferring to use canvas instead of wanting to paint a live shark. What he created with the flat tracks was unlike what anyone else would, or could. There were times when he scored that it felt like Asia had been created just so he would have this stage.

There is a flash over the leg side. It's a drop-kick, a pick-up, a smack. The bowler is just an extra, a vessel. The ball goes over a rope, a fence, some spectators, a hill. It hits a scoreboard. Maybe it goes over it. Maybe it disappears into the distance. Maybe it explodes the scoreboard like you see in them Hollywood baseball films. The whole thing happened like it was preordained, like it was supposed to happen that way, and that time, for some secret reason.

He just stands there. Looking generally disinterested. People around the world are yelling, jumping, screaming, laughing. Mouths are wide open, jaws are on the floor. But he doesn't react that way. He almost never does.

There is a flash outside off. The bat has missed the ball. Yet the same general look of disinterest and calmness he has after a boundary follows a play and miss. Other days he uses the same smile after his best shot, or his worst.

Playing and missing is supposed to be a test of who you are as a human being. Do you believe in luck, do you believe in hard work, do you believe in faith? In his case, none of these applied. As to whether the ball went into a scoreboard, into a crowd, onto a roof, or safely nestled in the keeper's gloves, it was gone. Finished. That moment, that euphoria, that danger, doesn't matter anymore. The greatest legcutter, the sexiest doosra, or a mystery ball fired from a cannon, it doesn't matter. It could be a long hop. A full toss. It just goes past him. When you bowled to him, you weren't bowling to a batsman; you were bowling to a belief system.

There is a flash over the leg side. It's a drop-kick, a pick-up, a smack. The bowler is just an extra, a vessel

There was comfort in his madness. Others have stopped, slowed, changed, restricted, just to survive, to thrive, to score all that they could score. Not him. Maybe he just couldn't slow down, couldn't hold back. He was what he was, a wild animal of batting.

There is a flash through point. It seems to exist on his bat and at the boundary at the same time. It was a cut but could have been a drive. They all went the same way, just as fast. Before the commentator has had time to react, the bowler has placed his hands on his head or the crowd is fully out of their chairs, the ball's journey has been completed.

Maybe it's Chennai. Maybe it's Melbourne. Maybe it's Lahore. Maybe it's Galle. Maybe It's Steyn. Maybe it's Akhtar. Maybe it's McGrath. Maybe it's Murali. It's all too quick. He's already moved on.

There are people who say he is just a slogger. That's a misunderstanding of slogging. Sloggers throw the bat recklessly without a method or a base. They always run out of luck, out of time, are found out. This was Zen slogging. He has a slogger's energy, a batsman's eye, and a tranquil mind. It's an odd combination. It shouldn't work. It didn't always.

But when it did, the innings was something that changed things. He could, when applied correctly, change the future. At other times, it was as if he could predict it. And if he didn't change the future of batting, he, at the very least, foretold it.

There are batsmen you can explain. You can unravel their magic; paint it for others to see. But he was above explanation. You couldn't unravel what he did, you simply had to reclassify it. His batting wasn't from the manual. It wasn't like the others.

If anything, it was a self-help manual, a religious text, wrapped up in cover drives. A road map for better living was right there in the middle of the ground. Play your shots, forget your mistakes, forget your success, keep playing your shots. Believe. Sehwagology.

There is a flash back past the bowler. There is someone, somewhere, stating that it is impossible to play that shot, from that ball. Someone else, somewhere else, is comparing him to another batsman. There is another someone, somewhere online, typing out their theory on his flaws. But at the ground their words get drowned out in applause - not applause, a cacophony of screaming.

There is a flash. A sudden burst of bright light. A brief display of joy. A moment. An instant. Virender Sehwag.

Jarrod Kimber is a writer for ESPNcricinfo. @ajarrodkimber

Comments have now been closed for this article

  •   Nitin Nambudiri on October 23, 2015, 21:25 GMT

    Wow,what writing.poetry.beautifully put.amazing,spellbound by the article and description of the man in the article.!!

  • Sharad on October 23, 2015, 5:42 GMT

    Jarrod, what's this style of writing called? "Make a point and keep repeating it over and over, with slight changes in the choice of words used and bore the the reader." Don't get me wrong I liked the things you wrote about Sehwag but my observation is not just about this piece.

    Some constructive criticism that could help you if you took it the way it was intended. Don't care if this gets published or not.

  • john on October 22, 2015, 21:04 GMT

    as a good hitter of the ball sehwag is, what has he done outside Asia, apart from the 195 which featured no warne/McGrath? His average in SA, NZ, England is under 30. he played 29 tests outside asia.

  • A on October 22, 2015, 13:11 GMT

    quite an article though I would disagree "a great" Sehwag was... he relished Asian wickets and scored with an audacity never seen before, on batting surfaces, again.

    he was joy to watch better than those mindless so called "hard hitters" game had witnessed in about last 10/12 years. since Sehwag was purely a batsman not a slogger, the best I can describe him as.

  • Himanshu on October 22, 2015, 3:21 GMT

    For the people who are commenting that he could play well only in Indian conditions. Ponting, Gilchrist, Lara have all abysmal averages in India(Ricky and Gilly in 20s, Lara 33). Are they overrated as they could not play on spinning tracks? No sir. Indian conditions were foreign to them but their averages here do not make them lesser players. Ditto for Sehwag in foreign conditions. Sehwag's average against BD and Zim combined is worse than his average against the stronger sides. Sachin, Ponting, Sanga, Lara or any other great's average against the weaker sides is far far higher than their overall average, more than double in some instances. Was Sehwag greatest of them all as he scored against the stronger sides? No sir. Sehwag could fail against the worst and succeed against the best. Or the reverse. It did not matter. Grounds, bowlers, milestones, nothing mattered. 'See the ball, Hit the ball'. Lets not analyse his records too much. Sehwag did not. 'See him bat, enjoy his shots'

  • Oka on October 21, 2015, 15:24 GMT

    Hello Mr. Kimber, thank you for sharing such a good writing. As much as everyone would have enjoyed the batting of the Man, it was all the more worthwhile and enjoyable reading the way you articulated his stay at the crease.

  •   Hiren Patel on October 21, 2015, 15:10 GMT

    I remember him saying "when I look around I don't see fielders I see gaps!" This article is full of beauty, great to reminisce thanks Jarrod

  • sam on October 21, 2015, 15:08 GMT

    Sehwag may well be a legendary batsman who was not a great batsman. Legendary batsmen are the ones who change the way the game is played. He wasn't a great player against seam and swing movement as his feet didn't move and he never bothered about playing it late or close to the body or with soft hands. But just like Viv Richards before him (though Viv was an all time great batsman) they played in a way nobody played. Adam Gilchrist also belongs to Sehwag's category. On a different note; Sehwag would have been much more successful had he played in the middle order in SA, England and NZ and not had to face the new ball. Anyway, an eternal joy to watch and the most naturally gifted batsman to come out of India (though Mohammad Azharuddin might have something to say about that).

  •   Cricinfouser on October 21, 2015, 13:18 GMT

    Nice article ..a different one than regular one's