Tuesday, April 1, 2008

SEHWAG THE SLAYER


You’ve liked it before, so he’s back with some more, SHAFT’S BACK IN ACTION! So ran the tag line of the 1972 Hollywood flick Shaft’s Big Score, where Shaft was the very black, very cool, very tough sort of superhero, a then unlikely black winner in white America.

Virender Sehwag has for long been the grudgingly acknowledged “black” winner in Test Cricket. Coming from the by lanes of semi-rural Najafgarh in Delhi, this simple lad had almost nothing except raw talent going for him. No sophistication of the well bred, no fluidity with English and, to cap it all, no batting technique that purists would recommend to anyone. So, despite his blistering knocks which literally re-wrote the rules of the game for opening batsmen and put fear into many a fast bowler, he was forever criticized for his lack of footwork, ceaseless flirtation with the ball outside the off stump, a seemingly casual approach to batting and his inability to bat responsibly as the situation demanded. Consequently, after a brief poor run, he was all but written off as a freak flash which could never shine again, and dropped from the Indian Team.

After a year in the wilderness, he was a surprise choice for tour of Australia, a decision which drew widespread criticism. Predictably, he wasn’t picked in the final eleven for the first Test. Then, he made a promising return at Perth, followed by a great century at Adelaide. Even then he was given the royal ignore by the “youth only” Captain of the One Day team, Dhoni, for the One Day series that followed against the mighty Australians.

Now, he's back with some more. Sehwag's Big Score, an explosive triple century at Chennai against the South Africans, he has not just shut many chattering mouths but has catapulted him into the rarefied league of all time greats, Sir Donald Bradman and Brian Lara, as one of only three people on this planet to have scored two triple centuries in Test cricket.

With this mother of all comebacks of all time, Sehwag has stamped his authority on the game in a manner that will be difficult, if not impossible, to run down in future. There were many who were till now downplaying his first triple century - the first by an Indian batsman - made against the Pakistanis in Pakistan, as a freak occurrence of which there was absolutely no chance of happening again, given his many ‘technical’ faults. Notwithstanding his other big scores, there was a constant lament that he had not matured with time and was hell bent on batting almost recklessly, due to which he did not deserve a place in the team.

Sehwag’s 319 at Chennai should put to rest all doubts not just about his ability as a batsman but about him being one of the greatest ever batsmen of India. Some stats: Out of the 14 Test centuries that he has scored in 55 Tests at a better than Lara’s average of 53.97, the last 10 in a row have been scores above 150, an unprecedented achievement. The average of all his centuries is an astounding 198, bettering Bradman’s 186. His secong triple century was scored off just 278 balls, the fastest ever! If that is not enough, take two double centuries from 182 and 194 balls, the second and third fastest till now. Add to this list the maximum number of runs, 257, scored in a day since 1954 and the maximum fours, 47, since 1965, and you will get an idea of what this phenomenon called Sehwag is all about.

More than the number of runs, it is the manner in which he gets them that sets him apart from every other batsman in the world. He shows scant respect for good bowlers or good balls, often scoring at a rate which is almost beyond human ability. Many can hit sixes and fours and play devastating cameo innings. But there is no one who can put up big scores consistently like he can in that manner. Single handedly, he can destroy the opposition and solve with humiliating ease the complicated equation between bat, ball and the pitch in favour of his bat. Alone, he can win impossible matches and save the most difficult ones. Many people who rate VVS Laxman’s 281 against Australia higher than Sehwag’s devastating triple forget that this was a comeback innings against the pressure of a massive score of 540 made by the opposition, in the enervating heat and humidity of Chennai.

And he isn’t done yet! Only 29 years of age and 55 Tests old, Sehwag the Slayer will undoubtedly put to the sword, okay bat, many a bowler in future too. Many more records are going to be humbled and many seemingly impossible ones are going to be created by this slaying simpleton whose bat is as lethal as nanchaku was in the hands of the legendary Bruce Lee.

At the press conference after his latest triple hundred, Sehwag was his usual simple, frank and unsophisticated self when he said that he still plays his cricket like he used to when he was 12 years old. If there is a ball to be hit, he added with transparent honesty, he will hit it even if he is on 99, 199 or 299! That is the straightforward and uncomplicated approach that has led to his downfall sometimes. But that is also exactly what has made him the most destructive and feared opening batsman in the world, whose best has clearly yet to come.

That there is some innate wisdom in his head is revealed by the fact that he has not allowed his mind to be cluttered and confused by criticism and the many tips and technical details without which lesser players cannot survive and with which Sehwag the Slayer would have only slain himself as swiftly and destructively as he does the opposition. Thank God for that.