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The school that Sehwag built

The plainspeaking Indian batsman is focusing on life beyond cricket, having set up an educational institution with world-class facilities for academics and sports

Gaurav Kalra
Gaurav Kalra
Monday morning. There's mayhem on Delhi's roads. The traffic crawls as we make our way through it. "Aaj bahut jaam hai [The traffic is very bad today]," our driver complains. His boss quips from the back seat, "Toh isme pankh laga le aur udd ja. Thand rakh, koi jaldi nahi hai [So get wings installed and make the car fly. Relax, we are in no hurry.]"
Virender Sehwag settles into his spacious seat and starts to hum along as an old Hindi film tune crackles through the stereo. He is about to begin his 17th season of first-class cricket. It has been nearly two years since he last played for India. He is no longer on the radar of men who select Indian teams. In fact, they have all but ended his international career by leaving him out of the 30-man list of probables for the World Cup. No surprise, really, that the sparkle that defined his batting in its pomp only makes an occasional appearance these days.
Like that one night in this year's IPL when he caned an all-international Chennai Super Kings attack for 122 off 58 balls to take his new franchise, Kings XI Punjab, into their first final. Nights like those make his legion of fans believe there might just be another coming for Sehwag, but the man himself loses no sleep over that possibility. He misses being part of the India dressing room but it is not an all-consuming thought. Being dropped, he says, has gifted him a precious resource - time. And he is using it to pursue the other passion in his life.
We are headed to Jhajjar, 65km from Delhi. It is one of 21 districts in the northern Indian state of Haryana. The town is dotted with decrepit structures. The historically inclined may be drawn to a couple, but for the most part Jhajjar is the kind of place you pass on your way to somewhere else. Except for one building that catches your eye. The Sehwag International School.
"This is my father's dream, not mine. I never thought I could open a school," he says. "When I was growing up, I was travelling almost five hours a day for cricket coaching. My father told me, if you become a player and earn some money, open such an institution where kids can study, stay and play as well."
Krishan Sehwag died in 2007. Less than five months later, his son plundered a strong South African attack for 319 in Chennai. It was his second triple-century in Test cricket. Only three men in the history of the game have made as many. A couple of days after that innings, Sehwag got a call from the then Chief Minister of Haryana Bhupinder Singh Hooda. On offer was a piece of land to build a cricket academy in Jhajjar. His father's words resonated in Sehwag's ears. "Sir, can I make a school as well?" he asked the chief minister. "It is a bit difficult for kids to come here just to play cricket and go back."
So began this labour of love. He signed cheques from his own savings. He took loans. He spared no expense, although there was little chance of the venture breaking even in the near future. "Whatever I spend here, if I don't earn that money back, I am still living happily," he laughs. "If you think about money, you can't stop. You should be happy with what you have in life."
In 2011, Sehwag's mother finally inaugurated the school. His father's dream had come true.
Walking around the 23-acre campus, its founder's influence is all too obvious. The focus has been on providing world-class facilities for both sport and academics. "Education is the best way to give back to society," he says. "You can donate crores of rupees for causes but it won't give you the same satisfaction."
Sehwag rejected suggestions to use fancy marble to make the reception area more attractive to visitors. Instead, he invested in three types of tennis courts - grass, clay and hard. There are six cricket pitches in the nets areas and a perfectly manicured field that has already hosted Under-19 matches for state teams.
"Sport increases your stamina and strength," Sehwag says. "That is why we tell our kids to play three to four different sports. That will help you use different types of muscles and use different strategies and techniques. That is how you will develop your body and mind."
Sehwag is drawn to the cricket nets instinctively every time he comes to the school. He is careful not to "coach" specifics, because "just like me everyone has a unique style of their own". But every now and then, he talks about his experiences in the game to his wide-eyed students, who cling to every word of the earthy wisdom offered.
The coaching staff that runs the daily drills comprises men Sehwag played age-group cricket with and ones he implicitly trusts. For the kids, practice begins once the academic session for the day is over. Unlike in the days when Sehwag had to take five-hour bus journeys back and forth for an hour of training, students now simply have to walk down from their lodgings.
While Sehwag is an occasional visitor to the school because of his playing schedule, his wife, Aarti, the chairperson, handles the daily nitty-gritty. He says she has pretty much appointed him chief marketing officer. "She was the one who convinced me into talking to ESPNcricinfo about our school, since you have such a wide reach," he says.
"If you want to build something, it should last for at least 50-60 years. I never had these facilities when I was growing up." He takes this marketing role quite seriously, pointing me to a certificate that ranks the school as No. 1 among day-cum-boarding schools in the state.
Sehwag says education has always been important to him. "I wasn't a great student but I did complete my graduation," he says. "We want to prepare our students to achieve excellence in all aspects of life," he goes on. He cherishes moments when a kid or a parent says "Thank you."
One day he hopes to send his young sons to the school that bears their father's name and stamp. For now, though, the focus is to improve the infrastructure. Laboratories are under construction for the first batch of standard XI and XII students. Sehwag is looking for ways to fund a synthetic running track. While fellow cricketers are buying sports teams, opening restaurants, and lending their name to designer fashion labels, he has chosen a distinct path.
"Dreams keep changing. I first dreamt of playing for India. When I achieved that, it changed," he recalls. "Keep chasing dreams but what we keep telling our kids is that you must become good human beings rather than just good in sports or academics. If you are good at sports and not a good human being, people won't give you respect."
At 36, Sehwag knows he may not play again for India but the respect he has earned is undeniable. While the school's growth is a priority, cricket remains an important part of his life. He intends to play for "another two to three years", and chuckles that he will announce his retirement on Twitter. "Why should I invite you media guys?"
I ask him if he would be okay never to play for India again and the retort is immediate, "Whose loss?" he cheekily responds. "Does it make a difference if I score 8000 or 10,000 runs in Test cricket? Not in anybody's life. Even if I make 10,000 runs, who will be happy? Only me, maybe? Because people don't care about 8000 or 10,000 or 15,000 runs. It is about individual satisfaction."
The sun is setting over the rural landscape as we hop back into the car for the long ride back to Delhi. Virender Sehwag peers through his window as the silhouette of the school he has built begins to disappear in the distance. He is a content man.

Gaurav Kalra is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo. @gauravkalra75