Virender Sehwag announcing his retirement on October 20 from international cricket and IPL was surprising – not the 37-year old Sehwag retiring but the fact he bothered making the announcement. It seemed like Mad Max delivering an after dinner thanksgiving speech.
Otherwise, a more typical Sehwag format of retirement — such as the day when he walks away from all levels of cricket — would be him strolling across one fine morning to his cricket kit bag, hauling it to the gate of his house and then chucking bats, pads, gloves et all onto the road while whistling his favorite Hindi movie tune “Oy, baccho (kids),” he might next holler to children playing cricket down the lane, “This is for you”. And that’s Sehwag done with playing cricket in this lifetime.
Sehwag was different. Nobody played this 300-year-old game like he did because nobody traversed the sublime and ridiculous, exhilarating and exasperating like he did.
At his best, Sehwag dissolved the ardent cricket fan’s occasional doubt of spending too much time watching a game. Sehwag on song was one of life’s joys, like his 319 versus South Africa in Chennai, March 2008, the fastest ever triple hundred in Test cricket history.
At his worst, Sehwag carelessly threw away his wicket and team’s advantage. It was as idiotic as an army general who on verge of routing the enemy takes a nap in battle. The easy victory becomes disaster. Often Sehwag throwing away his wicket, like in Melbourne, 2003, became the turning point for India’s win or loss.
Sehwag was then blazing away in an Australian summer before over 90,000 spectators packing the colosseum of MCG on Boxing Day December 26, one of the grand days in the international cricket calendar.
Batting on 195, Sehwag was toying with the Australian bowling when he got out to a full toss from part-time bowler Simon Katisch. India was powerfully positioned at 311 runs for 3 wickets. Exit Sehwag, and India was all out for 366, losing the match by nine wickets.
Such was Sehwag. Few players in cricket’s history could demoralize the opposition so quickly and devastatingly like Sehwag, and then maddeningly gift it back to the opposition. Few could squeeze in the words ‘incredible’ and ‘incorrigible’ in the same sentence of an innings, or a career, as Sehwag.
In a session he could win or set the platform for the team’s triumph – as when India chased down a record second innings target of 387 to win a Test versus England in Chennai, December 2008. Second innings and a stiff target usually means an opening batsman comes under enormous pressure. Not Sehwag. He smashed 11 fours and four sixes in an amazing 83 runs off 68 balls.
England failed to recover from the Sehwag onslaught, and lost the match by six wickets.
It was one of many Sehwag instances of traditional Test match cricket having never seen someone like him: a Mad Max going berserk when an opening batsman was supposed to cautiously weather the new ball storm.
‘Keep it simple’ was core of Sehwag’s uncomplicated attitude to batting and life. He may not unanimously get a seat in the pantheon of greatest Indian cricketers — he did not have the relentless concentration and technical skills of Sunil Gavaskar, the phenomenal mental strength and determination of Mahendra Singh Dhoni, the all
round mastery of Sachin Tendulkar- but Sehwag was right up in that rare list of truly unselfish cricketers.
Two memories of Sehwag strongly stand out as typical of the man. Sehwag was batting on 190s in Galle, Sri Lanka, 2008, and was turning down singles that would have taken him nearer his double hundred but would have exposed tail-enders to the Sri Lankan bowling. A few more runs may not have made much of a difference to the first innings
total, but Sehwag was prepared to sacrifice a rare personal milestone in the team’s interest. Eventually, Sehwag was unbeaten on 201 and India won the match by 170 runs.
Memory 2 was also typically Sehwag. Versus Sri Lanka in India, Sehwag made a comeback to the one-day team and was batting on 40s when he took a run walking like he was taking an evening stroll in Delhi’s Lodhi Garden. The wicket keeper Kumar Sanghakkara gently lobbed the ball right over the head of the casually ambling Sehwag and ran him
out. India won the match, but the cartoonish dismissal explains why the ‘Mad Max’ label suits Sehwag in multiple ways.
“A man who did justice to cricket and injustice to his talent” may be an accurate epitaph to Sehwag’s 11-year old career as one of the great mavericks to have played the game that reveals a man’s character as much as individual skills in a team sport.
But whatever he left unachieved won’t be worrying Sehwag. “One should always be happy, irrespective of what you achieve in a match or life,” said Sehwag’s Twitter account on October 20, the day he retired from international cricket. “That’s how I live my life.”