Legend. That’s one word that is thankfully not being overused in these times of superlatives in sports, especially cricket. We use ‘brilliant’, ‘magnificent’, ‘super’ and even ‘great’ so liberally that they have lost the weight that they ought to carry with them. But somehow, we tend to be a bit reluctant to use the word ‘legend’ to describe cricketers and it is not to be heard thrown around in search of a filler word for the sake of non stop commentary. In fact, the very first time I even associated cricket and the word legend was while watching the T.V series ‘Legends of Cricket’ on ESPN. It really helped me in getting to know some of the stalwarts of the game from yesteryears and those rankings made a lasting impression on me. But as is the case with everything, with time those rankings are bound to change. New players would come into the game, new records would be created, new historic moments would be played out, and of course new legends would be created. One such player who entered the scene around the turn of the new millennium was Virender Sehwag. He showcased a brand of cricket that was never heard of before, one that only he could try, he created new records too, those that are never even dreamt of before, and he made us fiddle with idea of of that legend tag to qualify him for a while. But now, after his international career has found new depths, has he really made into that league? Whatever that be the case, let us now think about how we should remember Sehwag and how he fills that jigsaw puzzle of cricket memories in our mind.
We should remember him for his non sensational debut for India in 1999 against Pakistan at Mohali. For playing an uninhibited innings and picking up three wickets to set up a win for India against Australia on his comeback trail at Bangalore in 2001. For playing that hurricane knock at Colombo against New Zeland. For surprising all us with his debut hundred in Bloemfontein against South Africa, a country where traditionally most Indian batsmen had struggled in the past. For forming a partnership along with Tendulkar that was reminiscent of that 1996 Cape Town classic written in the folklore of Indian cricket by Tendulkar and Azhruddin. For batting without any pressures or hesitancy of a debutant. For making us feel a bit guilty for not appreciating his efforts enough at the time as we were too caught up in the Tendulkar classic that was unfolding at the other end. I would like to recall something the former England captain Michael Vaughan once said, that he quite liked the fact that he had to come to bat in his debut match while everyone else around him were failing, against South Africa. He said that it did take a lot of pressure off him and allowed him to play without any fear of failure. Likewise Sehwag too might have enjoyed the fact that he had to come in after a batting collapse in his first match.
Then what are the other things in his early career we should remember Sehwag for? For becoming a fearsome opening batsman in ODIs within the next year or so. For making potentially difficult run chases look like cakewalks for India with his onslaught at the top of the order. For giving us the impression of a Tendulkar clone in his stance and sometimes getting us confused as to who’s who while they were batting together. For parting with his preferred position in the middle order in test matches to fill the opener’s slot and for backing his ‘see the ball- hit the ball phiolsophy’. For ‘seeing the ball like a Football’ on most occasions and for making even the best of bowlers think if they could trade bowling for something less taxing. For letting captains around the world know that the standard three-four slip and gully would not work against him and for forcing them to come up with some innovative field placings. For making a mockery of tactics by some of the great captains of the times Steve Waugh, Nasser Hussain, Graeme Smith, Inzamam-ul- Haq, Kumar Sangakkara, Stephen Fleming, Ricky Ponting and many more. For teaching us that big scores in test matches could be made consistently and there are ways other than the Marvan Atapattu school of batting to make them regularly.
Then what are the numbers that we should fondly remember Sehwag for ? 195, 309, 155 , 164, 173, 201, 254, 180, 151, 319 , 201 *. These are the scores he made in the innings in which he had crossed 100 during the period from December 2003 to July 2008. Not a single score of under 150 in that list. For coming up with some strange theory on why he manages to score those big hundreds so often. If I ‘m right, he once said something along these lines that after scoring a hundred he would try to score even more quicker because the more time you spend on the wicket you are more closer to that moment of being dismissed and so he would like to score as many runs as he could before getting out and that naturally would lead to those double hundreds and triple hundreds. It was something that defied common cricket logic but we should remember him as not one for conventional cricket wisdom. One that is not much into history of the game either. One that didn’t find it shameful to ask “Who’s Vinoo Mankad ? “after his opening partnership of 410 with Rahul Dravid against Pakistan at Lahore in 2006 that fell just 3 runs short of the world record opening partnership of 413 runs made by Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy in 1956.
What are the moments that we should remember Sehwag for in the later half of his career? For that second wind from early 2008 to 2011. For that successful opening partnership with Gautam Gambhir that was a major catalyst to India’s rise as the No.1 test team in the world. For being a key component in India’s World Cup victory in 2011. In almost every game he managed to give India that initial impetus though he hadn’t always kicked on and made bigger scores in that tournament. For showing his clarity of thoughts in the biggest of stages. Two of enduring images from the World Cup were when Sehwag had asked for reviews of his LBW decisions in the semi finals and finals. He felt the need to save his wickets, so he straightaway asked for the reviews without consulting his partner. For breaking the record of highest Individual score in ODI cricket with his 219 against West Indies in late 2011, that one record that seemed destined for him all the way.
Then there are some not so nice things that we should remember him for. For the well publicized, less than cordial relationship with Greg Chappel. For the alleged captaincy ambitions and the dressing room split up with MS Dhoni. For the extended run of lack of form for the last couple of years culminating in his booting from the team. Sehwag coming out to bat with a spectacle to aid his vision was one of the most symbolic events of recent Indian cricket history. The man who was once renowned for his great hand eye coordination now reduced to some one who need help to enhance one of his most natural gifts. At the end of it all, the question remains: “Has he made himself a legend of the game? or the more important question now is “Will he get a chance to redeem his path to become one?, a chance to belong where he should ideally be and to make himself a household name for the coming generations through another of those ‘Legends of Cricket’ series.