August 3, 2001

Give Shewag the freedom to run riot

Virender Shewag is a very shy man

Virender Shewag is a very shy man. He falters, blushes, looks away, says as little as possible and avoids confrontation as much as possible. The soft spoken man from Delhi has a grasp of English that does not give him enough confidence to get into too many battles. Perhaps that's why he prefers to settle all his battles on the cricket field. If detractors and critics begin nagging, the answers will come flowing off the willow and not in a post match press conference.

It was during the Duleep Trophy in the 1999-2000 season that cricket followers in the country actually began to sit up and take notice of this stockily built middle order batsman. Despite showing glimpses of being able to hit a cricket ball as cleanly as anyone else on the circuit, Shewag did nothing to change the general impression that he was a slam-bang type cricketer. All this till the 1999-2000 season. In a Ranji Trophy clash against Punjab, Shewag made a 175-ball 187 in which he struck 20 fours and nine sixes. But that was not good enough to convince critics, who reckoned it was a flash in the pan. Well, when Shewag cracked 274 in the Duleep Trophy match against South Zone at Agartala in December, 1999 there was no doubting Shewag's ability.

Coming in to bat at number six, Shewag scored 274 out of a partnership of 381 with Rajiv Nayyar. Shewag's 327-ball essay included 36 boundaries and four sixes. A colossal effort. And one that, in his own words was a crucial knock. "It's not right to say about someone that he lacks determination or he doesn't concentrate hard enough. Whenever any batsman goes to the crease, he aims to make a big score and I too had the same intention during last season," Shewag told CricInfo in September 2000. Referring to his knock at Agartala, he said, "I think with that knock I proved to the people who were doubting me that I could also go on to make tall scores."

Well, if anyone had any doubts about this man's ability to play at the highest level, they certainly should do a re-think, after Shewag's effort against New Zealand in the Coca-Cola Cup in Sri Lanka. If you can make 100 runs in 70 balls, is it really important that you should stay at the wicket long? If you can answer that question, you will also be able to explain exactly what role Shewag should play in the Indian team. Given that he is not yet near consideration for the longer version on the game, let us cast an eye on the One-Dayers for the time being.

Firstly, should Shewag be opening the innings at all? The answer does not come easily. Having not donned the pads to open the innings for either Delhi or North Zone, Shewag's elevation to the role in One-Day Internationals came as a bit of a surprise. Prior to his matchwinning hundred, Shewag's scores as opener in the Coca-Cola Cup were an uninspiring 27, 33 and 0. Nothing to write home about really. Certainly not for Shewag, who boasts a first class average of over 58. However, the manner in which Shewag approaches batting suggests that he could be an ideal man to exploit the field restrictions in the first 15 overs. The selectors thought of Amay Khurasiya and Yuvraj Singh and this experiment clearly failed.

So, while he has met with success in the role, perhaps the opening position is not the ideal one for him.

In the middle order or in the opening slot, the manner in which he is used will determine his personal success and indeed his utility to the team. His style of play dictates that he should be used judiciously. If you want him to make 40-odd runs at an even pace every other day, he is going to fail. If you want him to stay at the wicket as long as a Rahul Dravid or a VVS Laxman you have another thing coming for you. However, if he is given a free hand to play as he might, there will be an explosive score coming your way every now and then. And you can be sure that it will not be a knock that raises a few eyebrows. It will be the kind of innings that will knock you back, and win India the game.

The comparisons have begun to creep in already. Described by some as the 'poor man's Tendulkar' Shewag indeed bears some resemblance to the little master from Mumbai. To be honest however, that resemblance begins, and ends, with his physique, the manner in which he stands in the crease and similar physical attributes. To compare him to Tendulkar would be unfair to the Delhi man. Having said all this, one is forced to admit that there are a few strokes that force your mind to wander. When Shewag absolutely hit the cover off the ball in a square cut that rocketed over point in the most recent game against New Zealand, the tingle that went down the spine was not different from the one that Tendulkar often causes.

To seriously compare Shewag to anyone else would be futile. Instead, one should let him run riot, put the fear of God in the opposition and enjoy the run riot as and when it happens.