The swashbuckling Indian opener Virender Sehwag, also known as 'Nawab of Najafgarh', has turned 43 today. The man broke all the rules and backed himself to play his game fearlessly. He excelled and how! Experts also admire his clarity of thought. Apparently, his mindset was uncluttered and he never changed or paid heed to talks surrounding him. When he would fail, it looked bad but on the contrary, when he clicked, everything looked just perfect. He is a case in himself who wrote his own story with panache. Further, many players broke on the international scene who emulated his style of play. Quite understandably, there is a lot that can be admired about this man.
My first memory of him was when he was going all guns blazing in the domestic circuit in 1997-98 playing for Delhi. He would hammer the ball to all parts of the ground. He was in reckoning. He got a nod to play for India in ODIs first. It was the summer of 1999 when Sehwag got the opportunity to play for India in Mohali against the arch-rivals Pakistan in Pepsi Cup. Those were the days when Shoaib Akhtar had announced himself as a tearaway pace bowler. I was watching the game live when Sehwag took guard against Akhtar to face him for the first time in his international career. He was caught plumb in front of the wicket after just scoring one run. He was forgotten for 20 months.
Experts had seen talent in him and he was selected again to play for India. But his first real success came in the year 2001 when India was playing a tournament involving three teams in Sri Lanka. Regular opener and hope of a billion people in India, Sachin Tendulkar had sustained an injury in his foot and was out from the team. In such a scenario, India needed an opener who could stand and attack upfront just like Tendulkar did. Skipper Sourav Ganguly had an eye for talents. Eventually, he asked Sehwag to open for India who was a middle-order batsman until now. Sehwag looked at ease playing the new ball. I vividly remember him knocking boundaries at ease by piercing the gaps on the offside. He looked at home and cemented his place. In fact, in an important qualifier match during the tournament, he scored his maiden century in just 69 balls to help India win the game. He never looked back since then.
Sehwag had surely made an impact. When Tendulkar returned, Sehwag played in middle-order. The opening pair of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly was one of the most successful pairs in the history of ODIs. Sehwag would get an opportunity to open when either of them was injured. But he had shown such a great promise that talks had started to make him a regular opener in ODIs. Later on, the magnanimous Ganguly had sacrificed his opening slot to Sehwag. When both Tendulkar and Sehwag took guard, people could spot an uncanny resemblance and would confuse between the two. Their stances were strikingly similar. Sehwag himself admitted that he modelled his game by seeing Tendulkar play. There was a generation of players who were motivated by Tendulkar. They formed a menacing opening pair in ODIs. When they cut loose in unison, there would be carnage and the opposition team would dread them and want to see their backs as early as possible.
Sehwag was selected in the Test team. On a tour to South Africa in 2001, he debuted for India. Here as well, he made a mark by scoring his maiden century in his first Test match. It was a tough wicket to bat on but that didn't deter the stroke maker. The ball flew from his willow. That was the time when the Indian middle-order was known for the 'Fab Four' involving Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. It was tough for him to make a place in the middle-order. On an important tour to England in 2002, captain Ganguly asked him to open for India in a Test match for the first time.
Ganguly was a very instinctive captain who could trust his gut feeling. He believed in his hunches. Asking not to technically sound Sehwag to open in Test match in England was seen as an outrageous decision and many would think it as ridiculous decision. Maybe Ganguly wanted to use the special talent of Sehwag and make a space for him in the team. However, when Sehwag was going to open, number 3 batsman Dravid had already padded up sensing Sehwag may not last long. But it was a bet which clicked amazingly well and in fact, changed the way cricket was played in all parts of the world. The decision is now admired by everyone.
What was amazing was that Sehwag was never bogged down by anyone. Not an iota of him attempted to adapt and change his batting for the opening position. He just played the way he had known. What followed was a very successful career. Now, he is considered as one of India's best Test openers alongside the great Sunil Gavaskar. Sehwag would score at a great pace unsettling the opposition in no time. He was a prolific boundary hitter. In a 2003 tour to Australia, on a challenging wicket at Melbourne, he blasted 195 runs on the opening day of the Test match. That was ridiculous and something that the world was not used to seeing. Time and again, he had come up with astounding innings to shake the world.
In 2003 as well, India played in the ODI World Cup played in South Africa and the campaign was very successful with the team ending as a runner-up. In an important game against Pakistan, the opening pair of Tendulkar-Sehwag went berserk. Tendulkar's uppercut to hit Shoaib Akhtar for an astounding six on the offside had uplifted the crowd. Sehwag matched him shot by shot and also played an uppercut to score six on the offside against Waqar Younis. Sehwag had mastered uppercuts and played the shot quite successfully throughout his career.
On a much-awaited and highly anticipated tour to Pakistan in 2004, he had grown in confidence and actually made a mockery of the bowlers. Pakistani bowlers have been respected all across the world. But Sehwag showed no respect for them and played them with utter disdain. He scored prolifically throughout the series. He played uppercuts for sixes quite regularly against the pacy Akhtar. On that tour, Sehwag scored his and India's first triple hundred. That shows his exploits during the tour. It was a successful tour with India winning both the Test and ODI series. The contribution of Sehwag was notable in that series. He went to score another triple century against South Africa in 2008.
Over the years, Sehwag amassed 8,586 Test runs with 23 centuries. He scored at an envious average of 49.3 in Test matches. His career strike rate was 82.2 in Test matches. It shows how successful opener he was. He ably changed the way openers played in Test matches. In total, he had six 200 plus scores in Test matches. He is among the most successful opening batsmen across teams in the history of the game. With him, it was 'Fab Four' anymore, it was changed to 'Fab Five'. Obviously, he carved out an extraordinary career.
His exploits in ODIs were no less. He piled up 8,273 runs at an average of 35.0 in ODIs in the career. He scored more than a ball throughout his career. His strike rate stands at an impressive 104.3 in ODI cricket. He scored 15 centuries playing for India in ODIs. He is also a world cup winner. He contributed greatly as an opener in the 2000 ODI World Cup to make India victorious. He also played in the T20 international matches and in the Indian Premier League (IPL).
Such kind of player doesn't come often. Sehwag showed the world what can be achieved with an uncluttered approach. At one point in time, he himself said that he is yet to find a bowler who could intimidate him. When he said that, he meant it. He enchanted the fans all across the world with his powerful hitting. Sehwag is a living legend who made batting look easy. It was such a delight to see him play. The man continues to be in public reckoning through his witty comments on social media platforms. May he continue to entertain us the way he is doing.
CitySpidey wishes him the best of life on his 43rd birthday. Happy birthday Virender Sehwag!