GAME PLAN: Sehwag steps out; and keeps walking

Jaideep Ghosh

Virender Sehwag

Photo Courtesy: Virender Sehwag/Facebook

It has been quite a week. For cricket in particular with two men, who have served the sport in India with distinction, making their way out of the international fold.

Zaheer Khan’s announcement was noticed but the nation seemed to plunge into a cauldron of regret when Virender Sehwag did the same, just a few days later.

Sehwag’s case was also a classic reminder of how short and fickle public memory is. He wasn’t remembered when he was playing domestic cricket. He was remembered when he quit the international version, which he wouldn’t play any more anyway.
He was remembered for what he won’t do any more, while what he will continue to do – play Ranji Trophy for Haryana – won’t be noticed.

One can be sure that part of the decision had to do with the T20 tournament for former stars which will begin in Dubai soon. The premier qualification needed there is that the players have to be retired from international cricket.

But then, given that he wasn’t going to play for India again, any other plans should not bother anyone.

But Sehwag also disclosed that he had decided to retire on his 37th birthday. So maybe his mind was made up before the additional incentives cropped up.

Players retire. That is the only sure thing in his career. So it wasn’t a surprise that he did. But the way his exit was treated by some of the people with whom he has been associated for a long time was quite deplorable.

Sehwag has played his best cricket for India and for Delhi. Sadly, he had to leave Delhi cricket after a reported fallout with skipper Gautam Gambhir, who was his partner through thick and thin in India colours.

It was sad that two people who had shared so much while playing for the country couldn’t iron out their differences on the State level.
Also sad was the treatment meted out to Sehwag by the Delhi & Districts Cricket Association (DDCA).

Now, we can accept that DDCA had to choose between Gambhir and Sehwag. We can also accept that they backed Gambhir. What is not acceptable was the shoddy manner in which the best player to come out of Delhi was sent on his way without a whimper.

Sehwag sought a No-Objection Certificate to migrate to Haryana, which was promptly issued. He then went off to the neighbouring state and ironically ended up playing Delhi.

Neither before he left, nor after it, did DDCA try to at least acknowledge his departure.

Worse, there were rumours that some of the DCCA brass was keen that Sehwag’s place fell vacant, so that they could field a player of their choice.

None of that, unfortunately, was surprising. DDCA isn’t quite known as a paragon of propriety and clarity.

People who have waved guns at selectors have ended up becoming important in the DDCA while others have threatened selectors and forced them to change team selection.

So there could well be some undercurrents that sent Sehwag floating. What a tragedy for one of the best India has ever produced.
There won’t be another Sehwag. There may be batsmen who get a few double-centuries, maybe even a triple. But there won’t ever be another who had a century on Test debut, two triple centuries and even a double in ODIs.

There’s won’t be another who will ever match his strike rate. When he was in action, he was unstoppable. As vouched for by any side that ever played against him.

What also must be admired was that Virender Sehwag didn’t ever stop being ‘Viru’.

There was a time when he was out of the Indian team and a small newspaper, way higher in ambition than circulation, decided to send a reporter to sit outside Viru’s house in Najafgarh in Delhi to try and see how he was spending his days.

The reporter caught a glance of Viru as he came out to walk his dog – a casual, nonchalant superstar in shorts and a vest, waving and exchanging greetings with neighbours and being very normal indeed.

He didn’t get lost behind snazzy shades. He didn’t change his hairdo, nor get facelifts to be camera-friendly.

Nor did he attend to his fading hair till he did an implant to promote a friend’s company.

All Viru did was play his shots. He played them brilliantly most of the time, but he played them poorly too, which would explain why he never got past the four-figure mark in aggregate Test runs.

So when he left, people regretted. Viru was always unassuming and simple. He played with song in his heart and a tune on his lips. He often played with a smile on his face.

There were times when his unadulterated delight was evident, especially when he snared a wicket.

Viru enjoyed his cricket. He played it at his own terms. He sang through good form and bad. And then he retired.

What better way to sign off. Just keep it simple.