Virender Sehwag was not all brawn, writes Aakash Chopra
He would walk in at the fall of the fourth or fifth wicket and we would throw the ball to the medium pacer in the side with a clear instruction to bowl only bouncers and more often than not, the ploy would work.
Virender Sehwag cuts during fourth Test against England at The Oval in London in 2011 . Pic/Getty Images
This was the story of 18-year-old Virender Sehwag in Delhi's hot-weather tournaments that were played on slow, low and barren pitches. Once in a while Sehwag would go berserk and win matches for his side, but that never perturbed the opposition from trying the same ploy the next time they met. Back then, nobody even entertained the thoughts of Sehwag scoring over 8000 Test runs, let alone scoring them as an opener.
For someone who started out as an off-spinner, who could bat a bit, Sehwag did exceptionally well to finish off as one of the best Test openers of all time. People who haven't witnessed his early days believe that he was always this naturally gifted player with great eyes and hands.
While that is somewhat true — for there was a huge amount of inborn talent — what most people fail to notice and hence appreciate, is the sheer hard work and countless hours that have gone into making Sehwag the quality player he was, especially against pace.
I remember a Duleep Trophy game in Mohali where the match was interrupted a few times because of fog. While the rest of us whiled away time in the comfort of the dressing room (the cold was unbearable outside) Sehwag utilised every single break to enhance his skills against pace.
He batted for hours against the bowling machine and instructed the operator to crank it up after every 12-15 balls. By the end of that drill, he was facing balls in excess of 90 miles per hour. Since he made it look so easy, most were fooled to believe that he was a natural and not nurtured.
Sehwag was often perceived as all brawn. Most never acknowledged the method behind his madness. He wasn't just mindlessly hitting the round thing that was hurled in his direction. The fact was-those 8,586 Test runs were the outcome of a well-thought-out strategy.
The 2003 Test match versus New Zealand comes to mind — both Sehwag and I were stitching a partnership and the way he handled Kiwi off-spinner Paul Wiseman gave me a peep into the working of his mind.
He would hit him for a four and deliberately play inside the line to get beaten in the same over. His tactic ensured that Stephen Fleming was encouraged to keep the off-spinner in action for long and Sehwag quietly added 30-35 runs to his total. It's also worth mentioning that he was either hitting boundaries or playing a dot ball, for taking singles would've meant rotating strike — something he wasn't too keen on.
Test opening can be divided in two eras — pre Sehwag and post Sehwag. The way he challenged the norm and redefined batting, he'll go down as a cricketing genius. Now that the man has announced his retirement, it's fair to the say that the golden era of Indian batting is officially over.