The beauty of cricket lies in its simplicity. Nothing lends more credence to this fact than the joyous art of batting. One just needs to look back wistfully at the languid stroke making of Mark Waugh or the lazy elegance of David Gower to grasp the fundamentally simplistic grace that is batting. But no one epitomized this fact more chillingly than then mercurial Virender Sehwag. The French Economist Francois Quesnay is credited with coining the term Laissez Faire, a French Phrase which when literally translated means to “let go”. Sehwag represented both Quesnay as well as the Laissez Faire of batting. Watching Virender Sehwag bat is more akin to getting to grips with the atonality of a rebellious Igor Stravinsky, than being soothed by the mellifluous temperateness of a sedate Chopin. Yet there are few batsmen in the world who can bestow upon their audience Proustean bursts of ‘moments bienheureux’.
Possessing a style of batting that is more apt to be described as ‘speculative cavort’, Sehwag was more audacious than assiduous, substituted sagaciousness with savagery and preferred the phenomenal over the prosaic. Sehwag seemed to possess an unswerving belief which espouses that in addition to line and length, a bowler’s mind is also malleable to suit the hedonistic needs of a batsman. An impetuous repertoire of stroke making is ably assisted by an incredible hand eye co-ordination. As delectable wrists combine with powerful forearms to send seemingly good deliveries soaring over the third man boundary, screaming through covers and searing the blades of grass abounding the on-side, the destruction of many an egregious ego is accomplished with a precision that can only be termed surgical. This devastatingly unique style of batting was best summarized by the candid Ian Chappell when he remarked “Sehwag can change the course of a match with the ease of Moses parting the Red Sea”.
Not for him the convoluted technical nuances or the situational adaptations. He was a gushing torrent of water for which no obstacle was insurmountable and no object a diversionary tactic. Virender Sehwag lent brutality to batting. But it represented a brutality that was rudimentary in its application and riveting in its outcome. It would be nothing less than ribald to characterize the Sehwag mode of batting as slogging. He never threw his bat at the ball. He gave an impression of manipulating the line and length of an unfortunate bowler to his whim, surmise and conjecture. For Sehwag, the bowling attack was a malleable event that could be exploited to achieve something eventful. Sehwag was an imprimatur who created a singularly unique style of batting. He was the pioneer of “Virunomics”.
Test Cricket had its first glimpse of “Virunomics” when making his Test debut in November 2001 at the home of an opponent whom his countrymen did not and still do not take a fancy to, Sehwag walked to the crease with India at a by now familiar state of collapse at 68/4. The Bloemfontein crowd was expecting a stereotypical result. But the new kid on the block had other ideas. He took the attack to the opposition and put to sword a formidable pace attack which boasted the likes of Nantie Hayward, Makhaya Ntini, Jacques Kallis and Shaun Pollock. By the time he was done he had a hundred against his name and the shoulders of the South Africans had drooped. Virunomics had arrived. The concept of Virunomics is extraordinarily simple to grasp, exhilarating to view but extremely complicated to capture within the confines of grammar. It is akin to explaining to an aspiring youngster of the current generation, the exploits of Victor Trumper or Gilbert Jessop.
At the risk of failing miserably, let me try to take a stab at explaining the Sehwag Cricket Coaching Manual. Possession of a bare minimum footwork is a necessity. This should however be compensated by a degree of hand-eye co-ordination that can only be described as incredulous. The batsman should clobber, flail, nick, top edge, inside edge, throw the kitchen sink, hoick and heave at deliveries. But he must also drive with aplomb, cut with venom, pull with power, flick with timing and defend with the straightest of blades. Distinction between a half tracker and a jaffer is a sacrilege; a turning ball should be accorded the identical disdain deserved for a vicious bouncer. Featherbeds, green tops, dust bowls and hard as nails are all mere terminologies to be relegated to the confines of a forgotten history. Formats should never matter. A Test Match innings is a One Day International outing is a T20 blitz. Again it is malleability that matters. An innings of Virunomics is characterized by a solitary bad delivery, the delivery that has the batsman back into the pavilion. This incidentally could also be the only good delivery from the point of view of either a grateful or a surly opposition (depending upon whether the batsman dismissed had notched a duck or thrashed a ton).
If after reading the above, the reader feels that batting is not for the faint hearted, he should be feted for hitting the proverbial nail on its head. Virender Sehwag never knew the symptoms of a faint heart. What was a Theorem of impossibility for all other batsmen was just a ridiculously simple job for this dashing opener from Delhi. He just took batting by the scruff of its neck and gave it a good, hard shake. A shake that encompassed within its sweep, an entire nation in a wake of deleterious ecstasy. Sehwag’s brand of batting was a repetitive symphony containing one common refrain:
“See ball, hit ball, lost ball, new ball, see ball, hit ball, lost ball, new ball, see……..”
The greatest quality of Virunomics was that it was a synonym for liberation. Virunomics could set one free; it could send aspirations soaring high on the twin wings of hope and courage; it could instill a sense of pride and accomplishment; it could signify a resplendent dawn that cut through every pall of gloom in a rapier like fashion. Seeing Sehwag bat was equivalent to watching an Al Pacino movie. Time comes to a standstill but paradoxically gallops past you. Once the show is over, you are left lusting for more! A Sehwag innings was neither constrained by time nor cloistered by pressure. The bat did its job according to its own terms and was governed by its own set of conditions – conditions that were irresistibly basic.
Yet it is this atonality that has made this wonderful batsman cricket’s Auguste Escoffier. The delights that he serves up are undoubtedly original and undisputedly breathtaking. The sight of Sehwag carting Shoaib Akthar down the ground with an effortless swing of the bat or sashaying down the track to dispatch Murali over cover with a glorious inside out shot is one which has a lure that can only be termed ‘lambent’.
As Stravinsky himself said “I haven’t understood a bar of music in my life, but I have felt it”.
Virender Sehwag may not have been a colossus with the bat, but he was without a semblance of doubt, one of the most potent weapons of Mass Destruction this beautiful game of cricket has ever seen!