As an Indian cricket watcher of a certain age, you get used to disappointments. I missed the heady heights of the mid 1980s due to being wee.
Late 80s to late 90s was a long, weary and often humiliating trudge.
But then something happened; the stars aligned; thee force came alive and a bunch of guys came together to drag Indian cricket to the top.
Sachin Tendulkar was there, so was Rahul Dravid, Anil Humble, VVS Laxman, Zaheer Khan and the kids – Harbhajan Singh, Mohammed Kaif and Yuvraj Singh.
And this bunch was led by a man who can be credited with Indian cricket’s revival the father of modern Indian cricket, or should that be Dada?
Under him India got its ‘because fuck you that’s why’ attitude; it finally shook of the shackles of colonialism, of economic inferiority; of the in-built deference to white man.
India took on the world
But taking on the world is one thing; taking it on and being successful is another matter altogether.
India somehow managed that
And they key to that success was a man who was the simplest of the lot. A man who never subscribed to the fuck you that’s why attitude.
Instead he was a poster boy of the “not a single fuck was given that day”
He did not care about the pitch
He did not care about the weather
He did not care about the opposition
He did not care about the situation.
He did not care about the bowler
He did not care if the balls spun or swung.
He just walloped them all. He played with a simple philosophy – see ball, hit ball.
And boy did he hit them.
He is the Nawab of Najafgarh – Virender Sehwag
He announced his retirement from all forms of cricket a couple of days ago.
And naturally, scored a century the very next day.
Virender Sehwag was one of those rare breed of cricketers who made cricket fun. As long as he was on that pitch, he made you happy, he filled your heart with joy and wonder.
Of all the Indian cricket players over the years, he has given me most joy.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the ultimate finisher, Virender Sehwag was the ultimate starter.
Tributes have been pouring in from all and sundry.
But it was a simple statement that caught my eyes.
Shaun Pollock was asked who was the most difficult Indian batsman to bowl to – Sachin, Sourav, Rahul or VVS?
His answer – Sehwag.
Shiv Vishwnathan wrote this wonderful piece today on TOI.
Years ago, I escorted an associate of mine to meet the great musician Ilayaraja. My colleague was full of the latest post-modern nonsense and determined to impress the musician. We sat casually in a room in Prasad Studios, Chennai and while I savoured the moment, my associate sprang into attack.
He turned to Ilayaraja and asked, “Where do you stand between Stravinsky and John Cage?” The question was both pompous and funny and Ilayaraja smiled. He answered in Tamil. “What is that? Is it sweet? Can you buy me some? I love sweets.” The musician then quietly explained, “Music is God’s gift. I do not know what happens. It is like asking a river why do you flow.” The interview was a disaster but the opening moments were memorable.
Reading the notes of farewell to Virender Sehwag, I remembered this story, because Sehwag, like Ilayaraja, was a natural genius not subject to the straitjacket of methods. Trying to reduce him to a set of techniques – a scienticized collection of dos and don’ts – was a waste of time. As one of my teenage friends put it cheekily, laughing at my attempts to capture Sehwag, “he was like Maggi sauce. It is different. Only the quality of difference is so difficult to catch.”
I find the cricket of this current generation a bit dull. My era had Indian cricket flowering in its diversity. There was a Sachin, a Dravid, a Ganguly, a Laxman, and to that dream quartet, one inevitably added Sehwag. When these five were in flow, Indian cricket was like a symphony; the team sounded like a team but each player had his individual genius, a combination of style and substance difficult to match today. Each was a master in his own way and each demonstrated character in his own inimitable style.
In fact, there is an apocryphal story of the gods coming down to bestow gifts, talents, on this quintet of legends. The gods first turn to Sachin and grant him the bounty of genius. Long life. Longer creativity. His life as a cricketer and cricket in his life would rhyme. Focus, Concentration, Commitment, a great family and a greater coach were showered on him. Then the gods looked at Dravid and gave him the touch of integrity, of leadership, the ability to think through the game, the stamina to stay on and added grace. To Ganguly, an unruly baby, they gave confidence, the power to inspire, a killer’s instinct, an ability to be at ease on all occasions. Then came Laxman.They gave him the gift of character, a sense of epic, the sense of bodily grace, a wristy talent. In fact, so generous were the gods they had run out of gifts when they came to the last baby. He looked cherubic. They gazed at him in wonder and a touch of embarrassment. They looked and predicted he needed no muse except Bollywood cinema. He was a natural, there was nothing to add. Bholu alias Sehwag, just was.
In fact, if two people understood him, they were Bedi and Ganguly, two of the finest leaders of Indian cricket. Bedi realized Sehwag was unique and singular. He called him the Victor Trumper of Indian cricket. The comparison was superbly apt. Sehwag, like Trumper a generation earlier, was singular. If Sachin bordered on Bradman, Sehwag was Trumper. Unique. Singular. Epic. A pleasure to watch and a privilege to remember.
Ganguly who helped make Sehwag more Sehwag-like, recounted a story. Facing a formidable score, a colossal 325 in a Natwest series, Ganguly walked in tense to find Sehwag whistling nonchalantly. The captain asks him to concentrate and Sehwag replies that India would win the game and win they did. Ganguly remarked that Sehwag was a mindset. One could not re-educate him or reconstitute him. He had the basics, and to it he added his own genius. He played a different dialect of cricket not too amenable to technique or coaching.
There was a cocky simple confidence to him. It is as if he responded to a different drummer or spoke a different dialect. When Laxman had scored his legendary 281 against Australia, he met Sehwag, still new to Test cricket, and Sehwag announced that he would soon score a triple hundred. Three years later he did. Simple, unhurried, uncluttered, between a chewing gum and a Bollywood song, he would race to a century, appalled at something called the art of defence. He took life gently and saved his ferocity for the incoming ball. Even his food habits, as Laxman explained, were simple. He was frugal and as folklore had it, the Nawab of Najafgarh got his energy from the enormous amount of milk he drank. There was something unflappable about him whether he scored 3 or 300. He changed the rules of the game, adapted technique to suit him. His uncluttered talent reminded one of a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes, “about genius erring on the other side of simplicity”. People like to recite his great scores, his triple hundreds, his 293. But I think number is only an accompaniment to the music of Sehwag.
Statistics become a title. 293 or 311 is only a mnemonic to a memorable moment. A prelude announcing an epic knock. Sehwag could not be reduced to a bundle of techniques or management formula. He was a vernacular genius, confident of himself in the world of cosmopolitan cricket. Reputations did not bother him. It was as if he had the measure of them mentally. The game was won in his head. It was as if he played chess before and panja during the match. There was an animal-like ease to him, internally relaxed, outwardly ferocious. In this age of coaches, techniques, psychology, he was a man who eluded all explanation. There was nothing of the textbook about him. He wrote his own text. One can codify a Sachin or a Dravid, but Sehwag eludes formulae. He just is.
In fact, when you hear all the stories about him, you realize he escapes generalization. All one can say is, he was an enjoyable character who played to a different music. He was like butter chicken, lassi or a Bollywood song. An unquestioned touch of genius – elusive, accessible, commonsensical but with a mystique that makes him SEHWAG.
Sehwah did not do politics; Sehwag did not do chamchabaji; Sehwag did not do sledging, unlike those other players from Delhi – uncouth potty mouths like Gambhir, Kohli, Ishant etc – Sehwag was a gentleman.
No controversy, no scandal, not a single bad word from anybody.
That makes him a top top man on top of being a top top cricketer.
The Marathis have their Sachin
The Bongs have their Dada
The Kannadigas have their Dravid
Cricket lovers worldwide love their Viru.
He remains one of three men – Chris Gayle, AB De Villiers – who have transcended nationality.