Cricket purists, I suspect, may have been somewhat relieved when Virender Sehwag was dismissed for 293 on Friday and did not get his third Test triple hundred. Heck, there would have been some major explaining to do about how a batsman with suspect technique could score so many runs so consistently.
Ton-athon: Virender Sehwag acknowledges the crowd after scoring a double century on Thursday during the second day of the third Test match between India and Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai. AP
For him to get ahead of Brian Lara, they will have argued privately, would have been a travesty; to beat even Sir Donald Bradman nothing less than blasphemy. I am not so sure, however, whether such thinking is either correct or prudent. Watching Sehwag bat over the past decade, I reckon Lara, Tendulkar, Viv Richards, Gavaskar, Walcott, Weekes, Sobers—all the great batsmen who have adorned this game, including the statistically unimpeachable Bradman— would have doffed their hat in acknowledging his genius.
Starting out as a clone of his idol Sachin Tendulkar, Sehwag has carved out a path that is so thrilling and different that he is now an original himself. Indeed, what he has achieved so far in his career demands fresh scrutiny because it demolishes some time-held beliefs and establishes a batsman who would book a place for himself in the pantheon of all-time greats without much reason for debate or dispute.
For instance, in 72 tests, Sehwag has 6,248 runs with 17 centuries and an average of 52.50, which bears comparison with any player save Bradman in these aspects. Had he played for records and remained not out more often than just four times, his average would have been considerably boosted.
Twelve of his centuries have been in excess of 150, four of which graduated into double hundreds and two into triples.
The prolific century-making and the extraordinary high scores establish his staying prowess, but really it is his strike rate, a phenomenal 80.40, which marks him out as unique. No other frontline batsman in the history of the game comes anywhere close. Richards, the next best, for instance, has a strike rate of just a shade below 70.
But it is pointless spending too much time on statistics, rather on the impact he has had on the game. In the past, too much has been made of the ‘loose’ way Sehwag bats. It had been furiously argued that his back and across movement when playing fast bowlers is crab-like and clumsy, that he uses too much bottom hand and there exposes himself to greater risk, that indeed he simply takes too many risks. But that was mistaking gold for coal.
Cricket suffers from an overdose of academic rationalization, and especially when it comes to matters of ‘technique’. For more than a century it has been assumed that there is a certain way and rhythm to bat, and anything that deviates from the fundamentals is intrinsically flawed. Since batting technique got codified, so to speak, at the turn of the 19th century, a sound defence has been touted as mandatory for any player.
Sehwag has hit that theory for a six. In his system, unbridled aggression is the key factor. He does not need time to play himself in, is eager to hit every ball, unafraid of any bowler, any condition, any situation. In a sense, he has redefined the grammar and idiom of batsmanship for the modern game.
He is unorthodox in approach, yet no less assured of what he is doing. He is uncomplicated in his strokeplay and phlegmatic in his demeanour, but his apparent nonchalance is in fact a fascinating cover-up for a mind that is ticking all the time. He has superb eye-hand coordination, terrific ball sense, brilliant timing and most importantly rarely looks out of control even during extreme bouts of derring-do, as in the 293 against Sri Lanka at the Brabourne Stadium on Thursday and Friday.
But all things considered, it is his utter fearlessness that makes him special. He seems to walk out to bat oozing with gallons of adrenaline, and keeps not just spectators in thrall, but also his rivals and batting partners. It is not that he does not play a percentage game, but such is his self-belief that he can pull off the most outrageous stroke without compunction when ordinary mortals would be fretting about getting out.
Just where Sehwag stands among the great batsmen who have played this game will occupy the minds of academicians forever, but there is no doubting that he stands alone. In my book, he ranks as the most destructive batsman in the history of the game as yet.
The regret that he had missed a third triple ton is only the bane of statistics, not the burden of geniuses.
Mumbai-based Ayaz Memon writes on cricket and other matters.