By the time Virender Sehwag’s bazooka of a bat had blasted and blitzkrieged its way to the world record score of 219, the reaction of many a keen follower was not ‘wow’ but ‘at last’.
The Nuke of Najafgarh had for long been considered the chosen one for such a feat. He had himself mentioned a One-Day International (OD) double hundred as a primary target as long back as 2004. It is just one more idiosyncrasy of his logic contradicting career that while his explosive batsmanship had piled up enormous hundreds, double hundreds and triple hundreds in Test cricket, the inevitable ODI double hundred had remained elusive. It was quite expected that he would get it in due course of time. For someone with more than 8000 runs in ODIs at a strike rate of 104, it just boils down to staying long enough at the wicket on one good day.
And although he now stands with the unique distinction of holding the record for the highest score in both the major forms of the game for his country, it does not strike one as surprising. I will not be surprised even if he scores a 450 or a 500 in Tests and 250 in ODIs. Limits – of belief or science – just does not exist for this man. It is that very characteristic which defines him – one not chained by the cluttering conventions of regular thought.
Traditionally Test cricket used to have a standard rate of scoring. Sehwag walked in and blasted it past the boundaries of imagination. When he gets going – which is often, he scores at the speed of thought, sometimes even faster. Physicists subscribing to the limiting boundaries of the speed of light can blink once in disbelief and end up missing an entire Sehwag masterpiece.
For this man, no rule – cricketing or scientific – holds good. He is not constrained by the accepted barriers that have faced great batsmen from time immemorial. As if in accordance to the teachings of the ancient Zen masters, he goes about his business after emptying his cup of knowledge, with an unfettered and uncluttered mind. He gets to know about the limits of his trade only after crossing them fourfold!
The one hundred and thirty four year history of Test cricket and the laws of science would combine to decree a strike rate of 82 as impossible for an opening batsman, if he averages 50+ as well across 92 Tests. Yet, Sehwag manages all that even as his career runs is just shy of 8000. The aggregate and strike rate combination in ODIs would also hint at the miraculous. To Sehwag it is just what he does.
The MCC Coaching Manual will hardly deem fine third man an area for scoring runs, let alone finding the fence with regularity. Yet, Sehwag does so, and often crosses the boundary on the full as a part of his regular day job. If the ball can be hit there, he will hit it. At the same time, one won’t find him scooping the ball Brendon McCullum style into the V behind the wicket, ending up rolling about in the crease. If Sehwag attempts something, the approach is always simple – like the most elegant of proofs of a theorem not known before.
Conventional cricketing wisdom says that if a team scores nearly four hundred in the first innings of a Test match, the side batting second has to be conservative and defensive early on. However, Sehwag showed that by the end of the second day, he could be 283 not out in two sessions and the first team could be looking down the barrel. Many phenomenal international cricketers would not have had a go at this and similar impossibilities because of common cricketing sense. Sehwag is blissfully free from the tentacles of such stifling sagacity.
There are greats like Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman who have built their monumental achievements by letting colossal talent and dedication work on cricket’s acknowledged foundations. A Tendulkar and a Laxman can play strokes beyond the orbit of the ordinary by extending the peripheries of the cricket manuals with their far reaching brilliance. A Dravid can purify and refine the same manuals in the burning fire of the active-meditation he performs at the wicket. Sehwag however glances at the manual from time to time for reference, and prefers to have his own approach, almost spiritual in its innocent detachment from convention, mixed with the empirical clarity of his own alternative science.
The results cannot be disputed. He averages more than Sunny Gavaskar did as an opener, while scoring at twice his rate in Test cricket. By all laws of logic, that should have been a monumental impossibility. Not to Sehwag. He just goes there and does it.
Two triple centuries and once tantalisingly close to a third, huge hundreds and double hundreds, and now this 219 in a One-Day International, these form ample evidence that whatever alternative manual of cricket he has written for himself can work just as well or even better than the more traditional ones.
His approach to playing fast bowling at the beginning of an innings is an indication. Critics point out that he does not move his feet – the first lesson taught by orthodox coaches. Geoff Boycott reckoned that the degree to which a batsman’s feet move early in the innings demonstrated his form. His world was grabbed by the collar and turned upside down by the advent of Virender Sehwag on the scene. While analysing one of Sehwag’s strokes, the Yorkshireman confessed that he transcends traditional technique. Sehwag had just driven a fast bowler back down the ground, his feet as usual rooted to his crease. The slow motion autopsy carried out by the panel of experts revealed that if the left foot had come down the track as per the text books, the ball would have thudded into the pad without sufficient time for the bat to come around the front foot. By not moving his feet, Sehwag had actually managed to avoid being leg before wicket and had also managed to pick up a few runs down the ground.
But, at the same time, he does not discard the rulebook totally. When spinners are in operation, his footwork is as fast and nimble as the best in business.
Herein, perhaps, Sehwag unveils the new face of Indian batting. While Tendulkar and Dravid beat the world by playing the game by the rules, Sehwag has transitioned to the next level where he makes his own rules. And by extension, he traces his own limits – and has a habit of going beyond them.
Questions have already been asked about the invincibility of this new record. Chris Gayle, Shane Watson … who is most likely to break it?
My hunch is that the one to better it will be Sehwag himself. For 62 years, Indians had been living on the other side of a Test match 300. In the last seven years, Virender Sehwag has gone beyond it twice, first in Multan and then breaking his own record in Chennai, and came seven close to achieving the feat a third time. There is no reason why he should not do the same in ODIs. He has the same penchant for crossing and leaping over boundaries as his famed upper cuts. It is this lack of inhibition that produces the audacious edge to his batting that keeps us expecting the unexpected every time he takes guard.