You were special, Virender Sehwag!

He last played for India in Hyderabad in 2013 and since then, you’re used to seeing an Indian team set out in the field, without him. You knew his chances of a comeback were slim. You knew his best days were in the past. You knew he was 37. You doubted if he could again produce those masterpieces. But there was some part in you, which wanted to see him with the willow again for India. You can understand that as Indians have always been emotional. But with Virender Sehwag, the reactions that poured in from fans and writers in England, Australia and even Pakistan, were remarkably similar. Jeez, he was loved all over the cricketing world. Wasn’t he!

He was special. In fact, very special. He defied all the cricketing laws, even made a mockery of the conventional approach to batsmanship and yet, the purists adored him. They clapped in elation, every time he slashed it through the gully. They were in the edge of their seats when he hit those naughty, tempting sixes through the third man on the opening day of a Test match. They stood in awe every time he played those insane knocks. They were his fans, among many others, cut across the borders and generations. 

Rahul Dravid, the bible for batting in test matches, was his fan. So was Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag’s idol. So was the reckless T20 generation slogger, Glenn Maxwell. So were VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly, Adam Gilchrist, Kevin Pieterson, Mahela Jayawardene, David Warner and the list goes on. Everyone prayed for a Sehwag special when they sat in front of the TV. He was a swashbuckler. An entertainer. A swagger. A pied piper. A Rajinikanth block bluster. 

I have often wondered how he managed to garner these many fans. His numbers spoke for themselves, like with any great player. But it was all about the manner in which he scored his runs. He had a song on his lips as he pounded the cricket balls. He whistled. He smiled while destroying the bowling attacks and records were broken as an after-thought. After Alastair Cook’s laborious knock of 263 off 528 balls recently, I imagined what all could Sehwag have done in that time- completed two triple centuries while humming 528 lines of Kishore Kumar’s songs and pulling up 263 conversations with the umpires. That defined him. Those chatters with the umpires from the non-striker’s end, no matter if he struggled with the swing or was hitting the sweet spots. Nothing bogged him down. Not even Shane Warne’s zooters when he scored a top class 155 in Chennai. Not even the bouncers that hit his helmet in MCG when he powered his way to 195. Not even the raw pace of Shoaib Akhtar and Brett Lee. Not even the then scary Mendis Mystery. That he was a genius, made him overcome all these. But that isn’t the complete picture. His carefree approach made us pause and think if we could all be like Sehwag, and make our lives insanely simpler.

Eventually, the numbers too happened. 8000+ runs in both the formats at a jaw-dropping strike rate of 82 in tests and 104 in ODIs. Those big daddy triples came the way. Staggering doubles made its way, including the Indore Incendiary (219). Records tumbled. Bloemfontein happened. Nottingham and Melbourne followed. Lahore was conquered. So too was Galle. So too were Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai. And in between he tore apart Pakistan, made billions of Indians watch the 2003 World cup final despite losing Sachin early, took a fifer at Delhi, trolled Michael Clarke, registered a king pair, inspired David Warner to become a Test opener and made press conferences worth listening to.

So, which is my favorite Sehwag innings? There are three of them in no particular order. The 195 at MCG and 201 at Galle were impressions that there was a method to his madness. It wasn’t just about taking the leather of the ball. He took his time, survived the snorters early on and then dominated the Aussies in Melbourne. At Galle, it was a similar approach where he planned his innings beautifully before conquering all sorts of spin at the minefield of a wicket. The third is probably, the most audacious knock ever played- his 83 off 68 in Chennai while chasing 387 on the 4th innings. He expanded our imaginations. The world gasped in awe. So were England.  It was freakish. It was unheard of before, in 150 years of Test cricket. India eventually chased the target down in two days but the match was won in an hour and a half of sheer madness. 

I choke, as I write this post. It’s not easy to see one of your favorites bidding adieu. Words are difficult to come by. There are emotions all over. There is sadness everywhere. It’s a lump in the throat moment. His cricketing journey has been a personal favorite along with Rahul Dravid’s and AB De Villiers’. I don’t think any other cricketer brought me so much joy. I don’t think any other cricketer forced me to the edge of my seats every frigging time. I don’t think any other cricketer played cricket, the Sehwag way. He is special. He is a legend. He is God. Thank you for enriching our lives, Virender Sehwag!!




Zak, the warrior

In a batsmen obsessed nation like ours, it is not often that you see a bowler sharing the limelight. Time and again, we’ve seen our spinners foxing the opponents in minefields by magically rolling their wrists and fingers. Our wickets literally take the fast bowlers away from the equation. It is for this precise reason that Zaheer Khan will hold a special place in the annals of Indian cricket. His heroes, the legendary Kapil Dev and the incredible Javagal Srinath were special and India celebrated them. And Zaheer with his performances, emulated them.

I remember his early days in 2000 clearly. It was a new phase in Indian cricket when the youngsters were being heard and encouraged. One of them started shooting those toe crushers in Nairobi. Every one of those had a message “Zak has arrived” written on it. They were special and Indian cricket fan woke up. The young man from Shrirampur who never bowled in a turf till 17 was suddenly one of the most feared fast bowlers in the world. In between, he massacred Henry Olonga with the willow in an over. He was part of the pace attack that took India to the WC final in 2003 and Zak’s best came in the super six against a formidable Kiwi lineup. Then came the fifer at Gabba, partnership with Sreesanth in that famous win at Johannesburg and a string of useful spells all over the world.

As is the story with every Indian pacer, injuries derailed his progress. Fitness kept him out of crucial encounters. There were questions on his form. His pace dipped and he was no way near his best. That’s when he did something smart. He signed up for Worcestershire in the English county cricket to hone his skills further and when he came back, he became a ‘smarter’ fast bowler. There was more variety in his armory. He mastered the knuckle bowl, learnt the trade of controlling his swing and started hitting the sweet spots in the pitch. Zak, the promising youngster was ready to spearhead the Indian bowling attack.

Second part of his international career began when he blew England away in Nottingham in 2007. Left handers became his bunnies. He started to look lethal in the sub continent when he reversed the old ball. And all those were reflecting in the bowling figures. He complemented the spinners wonderfully when we swept opponents at home and was an inseparable entity in the test team that reached the pinnacle in 2010. And then came the 2011 world cup. Zak was at his best. In a tournament dominated by Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh, Zak was in a league of his own. He opened the bowling, bowled in middle overs and was India’s go to man at the death. I have fond memories of his knuckle balls to dismiss Paul Collingwood in early stages and Mike Hussey in the QF. What a peach that was! And what a world cup he had. Sadly, fitness and form kept him in and out since then and he was no where near where he was in his prime.

Thank you Zaheer for enriching this beautiful game. You can be extremely proud of what you’ve done. We’ll miss you Zak. The hairstyles. The high jump. Yorker. Knuckle ball. Wickets. And this.

Thank you Zak

                               Thank you Zak