Every now and then a player comes along who breaks the mould and sets a new standard for others to follow. It is usually driven by one extreme or the other; a deep concern with statistics and conservation, or a devil-may-care attitude toward such things. Virender Sehwag falls firmly into the latter category.
He’s an anti-Geoffrey Boycott. Where England’s man prized his wicket above all else (“you can’t score runs in the pavilion” as he often quipped and still does), Viru never did seem too much to bother himself with such trivialities. He was an opening batsman very much of the 21st Century, a complete divorce from the old traditions of opening the innings.
Not for Sehwag batting through the first hour and taking the shine off the ball. Thudding the new ball into the advertising hoardings beyond the boundary was a far more effective way of removing the lacquer.
Greatness is born from obsession and Shewag’s was with stroke play and entertainment. Where Jack Hobbs mastered back-foot play to the point of perfection, where Don Bradman refused to take the aerial route, where George Headley absolutely refused to be kept down on account of who he was, Sehwag blazed his own trail – and it was one of carnage atop the order.
He’s the only man I have seen achieve the dubious honour of a ‘King Pair’ in a Test with my own eyes. He was dismissed first ball in both India’s innings of the 2011 Edgbaston Test, which they lost by an innings and 242 runs. Having been the victim of a brilliant ball from Stuart Broad first innings, he went for a full blooded drive first up against James Anderson in the second. Infuriating and brilliant, it was Sehwag in a nutshell.
He emerged at a time when the game was changing forever. The first of his 104 Tests came in 2001. Aggression was seeping into the game with the eminence of Steve Waugh’s Australia side which was being spearheaded by Matthew Hayden and complimented by Adam Gilchrist. Cricket was shedding its conservative roots.
Sehwag has a lot in common with Hayden. He played one more Test than him, scored 39 fewer runs and seven fewer centuries. The difference between these trailblazing openers, however, is their strike rates. Hayden scored at 60.10 runs per 100 balls faced; Sehwag at 82.23. Hayden set the platform for the modern opener and Sehwag built on it.
Sehwag also belongs to a select band of triple centurions. Only Sehwag, Chris Gayle, Brian Lara and Bradman have two triple centuries to their names, although Lara went on to take things a step further with Test cricket’s only quadruple hundred.
It shows that there was method to Sehwag’s madness. In putting his attacking instincts first, he achieved great things and opened the batting in 99 Tests for India. He showed the way for players like Gayle and Dave Warner. The opener can be a dynamic, attacking weapon ahead of the middle order. Sehwag broke the mould. He took things to a new extreme.
Even Gayle can’t match Viru’s strike rate. He is somewhat ponderous at a Hayden-esque 60.26. Sehwag’s controlled destruction was relentless. He never once looked like a man who considered his actions reckless. He was debonair to watch; he was thrilling.
To bring things back to Boycott, there are striking statistical parallels between the Yorkshireman and the Delhi Destroyer. As openers, their averages are similar, 48.16 to Boycott and 50.04 to Sehwag from 191 innings and 170 respectively. They both made 22 centuries opening the batting. The both scored more than 8,000 runs in that position, more than enough to consider themselves masters of a tough art.
“Hayden set the platform for the modern opener and Sehwag built on it”
Where Boycott would set out his stall to bat all day (he finished with 23 not outs to his name; Viru six), Sehwag set out to score as quickly as he could. One controlled defence, the other controlled attack.
The plight of the two reflects two different times and two different cultures. The results remain strikingly similar. There are many ways to skin a cat, they say, and Boycott and Sewhag could hardly have chosen more different methods. Yet both offered something special to cricket fans everywhere.
It is not a regular occurrence to see a player take things to an entirely new level. In Viredner Sehwag, we were all lucky to see something very special.
By Miles Reucroft