Sehwag: The story of a long goodbye
An athlete’s time in a game rises and falls like the sun. As sports history has shown us over the years, one day a sportsperson has to step aside and let the next generation take over. It’s a proverbial torch-passing moment. But sometimes, before a player is ready to pass on the torch, fate snatches the torch away from him/her and gives it to another who is deemed worthy. Something like this happened to Virender Sehwag. A player, who in his prime was one of the most revered batsmen in the game, capable of annihilating the bowling line ups of any team, had to retire rather unceremoniously last month. A player like his caliber who had given so much to the team certainly deserved a proper farewell.
His ODI career started poorly when he scored 1 against Pakistan in Mohali in April 1999 when he fell to Shoaib Akhtar. His bowling performance was also ineffective and expensive, conceding 35 runs off 3 overs which left him off the national team for a mammoth timeframe of 20 months. Sehwag would again rise to prominence in his fourth ODI match in March 2001 when he scored 58 off 54 balls, against Australia.
Combined with his three wickets, he helped earn India a victory and was awarded his first man of the match.
In August 2001, he was promoted to the opening slot for the tri-series involving New Zealand and Sri Lanka. In the match against New Zealand to decide the finalist, he scored his maiden century from 69 balls. At the time, it was the third fastest ODI century for an Indian behind Mohammad Azharuddin’s 62 ball effort and Yuvraj Singh’s 64 ball effort. This was his first score beyond 50 in ten matches and saw him named the man of the match. This performance earned him a regular spot in the ODI squad in the middle-order. He bettered his own record by hitting a 60-ball century against New Zealand during the 2009 tour.
In late 2002 he scored an unbeaten 114 from 82 balls that included a 196 run partnership with Sourav Ganguly to lead India to a nine-wicket win over the West Indies in Rajkot. He was the only batsman to score a century in the 7 match New Zealand ODI Series where he made two centuries – 108 in Napier in an Indian defeat and 112 in Auckland in a one-wicket victory.
On 11 March 2009, Sehwag blasted India's fastest ODI hundred against New Zealand by reaching 3 figures in just 60 balls. Eventually, he led India to win its first series win in New Zealand. On 8 December 2011, Sehwag scored his highest ODI score against the West Indies at Indore slamming 219 runs off only 149 Balls. In the same innings, he also crossed 8,000 runs in ODI Cricket.
In Test cricket, the Nawab of Najafgarh was a different beast altogether. He played Test cricket like it was a longer version of the ODIs. He made his Test debut in late 2001 in the First Test against South Africa in Bloemfontein as a middle-order batsman. He scored 105 on debut despite the Proteas winning the match. He scored his maiden home-century of 147 in the First Test against the West Indies in the 2002–03 series in Mumbai, which was at the time his top score in Test matches, earning him his first man of the match award. After a poor tour to New Zealand, he scored passed 50 for the first time in 9 innings when he scored 130 in a Test at Mohali against New Zealand in late 2003.
He then scored 195 against Australia on Boxing Day 2003 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. His dismissal on the first afternoon led to an Indian collapse and eventual defeat. Then came the innings which had all the cricket lovers talking for ages. In early 2004, he became the only Indian to score a triple century in Test cricket, with 309 against Pakistan in the First Test in Multan, beating V V S Laxman's previous Indian record (281 against Australia) and helping India to a total of 5/675, the highest ever against Pakistan. It was Sehwag’s sixth Test century in 21 Tests. India went on to win by an innings, with Sehwag named a man of the match. He also scored 90 in the Second Test defeat in Lahore and was named the man of the series for his efforts after being the highest run scorer and average for the series. The name Multan ka Sultan was engraved in cricket lore forever after that innings.
In the 2005 home series against Pakistan, he scored 173 in Mohali, 81 in Kolkata and then 201 in Bangalore, totaling 544 runs at an average of 90.66 to win the man of the series award. He passed the 3,000 run mark in Tests during the Bangalore Test, becoming the fastest Indian to reach the mark in terms of innings played. His performances over the preceding 12 months earned him selection in the ICC Test Team of the Year as well as the nomination for Test player of the year.
Against South Africa, in the home series in April 2008, he scored 319 in the first Test at M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai, having reached 300 off just 278 balls which is the fastest triple century in test history. Sehwag became only the third batsman after Sir Donald Bradman and Brian Lara to score 2 triple centuries in Test Cricket. He scored 257 runs the third day of the match, which was the most runs scored by an individual batsman on a single day of a Test match since 1954 when Dennis Compton made 273 runs on the second day of the Nottingham Test against Pakistan.
Virender Sehwag is often noted for his extremely attacking style of batting, and in 2005 he was described by Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack as the “most exciting opener in the world” due to his aggressive style in Test matches, his strike rate being inferior only to that of Adam Gilchrist and Shahid Afridi. It is thus a crying shame that a cricketer of his reputation did not get to retire on his own terms. “I have always done what I felt was right and not what conformists thought to be right. I also want to thank everyone for all the cricketing advice given to me over the years and I apologise for not accepting most of it! I had a reason for not following it; I did it my way,” Sehwag said in his farewell statement.