Virender Sehwag and what we don’t know

Virender Sehwag has charted new territory. He has raised visions of a batsman crossing 250 in a one-day match (a score that was well within his reach in Indore). As always, he has stretched the limits of what we think is ‘possible’.

I have a problem when it comes to Virender Sehwag. I haven’t figured how to write about him. I don’t have the words. I have often, in an act of shameful laziness, used references to violence, describing his batting style as ‘brutal’, ‘savage’ and ‘devastating’. But that is a work of my limited imagination, a kind of stereotyping that does Sehwag an injustice, undermines his creativity and undersells his grand art.

I have also fallen into another common trap: celebrating Virender Sehwag for being a plain-shooting batsman who doesn’t think too deeply about his gameplan: the see-ball-hit-ball school of explaining Sehwag.

I have spoken about his state of ‘no mind’ – in a comparison I had drawn with ‘The Last Samurai’ – but that was just another short cut. Sehwag may approach each delivery with a blank mind – I’m taking him on his word here – but he enters the field with a mighty vision. The brushstrokes maybe intuitive but his plan for the painting is supreme.

I have taken refuge in stats – often the most illuminating way to write about a Sehwag innings. It’s a tempting option because he is always breaking new ground. Not only does he score at a berserker pace – eating up all the ‘fastest to reach …’ records – but also builds towering monuments – venturing into ‘the highest score …’ category. But a great man can’t just be about numbers. Genius can’t be illustrated in histograms.

I have tried to write about Sehwag by comparing him to the other colossi. How Tendulkar did something to India’s batting while Dravid did something else but how Sehwag did this grand thing that nobody had expected. Fail. I have written about how Gavaskar did this to India’s opening mindset while Sehwag is doing a wonderful that. Fail.

I have tried to explain Sehwag’s earthy mindset by throwing in anecdote after anecdote. The Jeremy Snape story. Tick. Sitting next to Ganguly in the balcony and responding to every dot ball with, ‘Chauka gaya, Chakka gaya’. Tick. Attempting a six when on 195, failing, and then pulling off a six when on 295. Tick. The Paul Harris challenge. Tick. Beta beta hota hai, baap baap hota hai. Tick.

I have tried to explain the curious contradiction regarding Sehwag’s largely indifferent one-day performances compared with his phenomenal Test record. Tests offer him a wider canvas, one-dayers – with their required run-rates, powerplays, field restrictions – constrict his style; Tests give him a vast expanse of time to construct skyscrapers, one-dayers require him to limit his ambition.

I have spoken to Rudi Webster, the psychologist Sehwag credits for pulling him out of a trough. I have asked him what makes such a batsman succeed. I have heard that he is the sort of batsman who needs to constant reassuring, a regular boost to his confidence. I have written a long magazine piece about this. But I have still not felt satisfied.

I have spoken to Sehwag himself (I wish I had pulled off such an interview). I have tried to unlock the secrets of the mind. I have tried to ask him questions about specific instances during matches. He once said his first thought when an opposition captain pushed mid-off and mid-on slightly back was to find a way to hit over them. His second thought was to take a quick single.

Before a Test match in St Lucia – the pitch green as a snooker table, the captains unsure about what to do at the toss – he said he wanted to hit the first ball he faced for four. India won the toss and batted. Sehwag smashed the first ball he faced to the backward point fence. He nearly got a century in the first session. He finished with 180. Nobody spoke about the pitch after Day 1.

All this is interesting. But I have never felt equipped enough to write about Sehwag. I have never been able to pick out what I enjoy the most about his batting. I don’t know how to recreate the immensity of his work. He has created a whole new civilization out there and left us gasping but it may take a few years, maybe even decades, to understand its significance.

Some artists are celebrated in the lifetimes and go into eclipse after their deaths. Others are ignored when they’re living and are not around to see their works attaining lasting greatness. Virender Sehwag probably falls somewhere in between these two categories.

Those of us who are lucky to watch him bat know he’s great. But those who come after may be lucky enough to understand his greatness, to put his mighty body of work in perspective and to celebrate how one man changed the course of cricketing history.

Published by Siddhartha Vaidyanathan

I’m a freelance writer, editor and author. My debut novel - What's Wrong With You, Karthik - was published by Pan Macmillan in India. You can order it here: I have worked as a reporter and editor for ESPNcricinfo. I was part of the team that launched their digital magazine – The Cricket Monthly. You can read all my articles here. I used to write a fortnightly column for, I host podcasts and (occasionally) write pieces at I have contributed articles to Wisden, Nightwatchman, The Hindu, Mumbai Mirror, Indian Express,, AOL, The Guardian, The Daily Telegraph and Yahoo India. I have worked for Bloomberg News and Wall Street Journal as a features reporter.

21 thoughts on “Virender Sehwag and what we don’t know

  1. There is great depth to his statement – “But if my mind is blank, then I will play according to the merit of the ball”. And that is where is greatness lies. Let’s say you went to a new neighborhood and got mugged. Now when you go back to that neighborhood next time, if at all you venture back, would you go with a blank mind or would you be on look out for muggers. I can see myself seeing ghosts where they don’t exist.

    Sehwag gets ‘mugged’ on that 22 yard strip every time he gets out cheaply! Yet, he can walk out there ball after ball with a blank mind and not looking for ghosts or even muggers is not an art even 1 in a million possess. He does and hence it shows as his greatness!

  2. Yet, I must add greatness is never a linear phenomenon that can be associated with one trait. It is almost always a mystery phenomenon which connects seen and unseen traits. If it were a simple formula, it would not be greatness. It would be a formula which every T,D,H can copy!

    1. Thanks for the comment Sagar. And fine point re getting mugged in a neighborhood and going back again. I am still amazed at how Sehwag got past all those junior coaching camps when you are constantly told to bat in a certain way

  3. wonderful article. The analogy of the great artists to end the piece is so very befitting. It raises the whole piece like in a crescendo.

  4. He is a simple fellow. IMO Cricket is less scientific for him. He is completely different to Dravid or Laxman or Sachin. But I also get upset when someone compares him with Gayle or Watson or even Dhoni. With due respect to the these cricketers, Sehwag never relies on power to scores those boundaries.

    1. Yes, it’s surprising how he generates so much distance on the ball with a frame that doesn’t look as powerful (unlike a Gayle or a Sanath, who are obviously really well built)

  5. Did he too, would he too, then? I see Sehwag as a maverick, a one-off. And wouldn’t changing the course of the game require something that’s more replicable – a-la the straight drive, the leg spin, the four fast bowlers, the run-rate of four et al?

    I see Sehwag as a cricketing Ronaldinho Gaucho. Now that was a guy who could really get bums on seats (and not just those of fans). Magical, incredible pieces of skill, and not without matter, not without solid silver to show for it. Not a Ariel Ortega-esque show-pony, he won his teams world cups and league titles and champions’ leagues. And he did that all with a big big smile. But in the last 25 or so years of watching sport, these are the two people who have given the most joy to me as a spectator. More than Sachin and more than Messi. Why, even more than Lara and Diego.

    Now, for all his genius, can you re-create a Ronaldinho? Can you re-create a Sehwag? I see another supreme talent like that come over, and immediately morph (or is coached) into either the sturdy, result-oriented all-encompassing greatness of Sachin/Messi, or the negligent throwing it all away of a Kambli/Gascoigne. — I had feared that there will be a day when either i) Sehwag is found out or ii) what’s worse, he starts getting his runs at a strike rate of 75.

    For all the robustness of West Delhi, it’s fragile magic.

    1. Changing the game also includes changing of a mindset. And the fact that he was so successful in Test cricket with the way he played surely opened up many other minds. People like Jayasuriya and him did a lot to change the nature of Test cricket (especially the way openers bat). For me, the Ronaldinho example works well with Lara. But somehow I see Sehwag as more of a Cryuff – someone who brought a different dimension to the game and added beauty to it.

  6. Really good one Sidvee. You focused on the man rather than on the 219 runs. I think one of the best articles I read about Sehwag was written by (I think) Mukul Kesavan, calling him a zen master. It is interesting how he has been described by different authors – Last Samurai, Zen master, Last amateur 🙂 ..For all you know, the four words – see ball, hit ball – would come to encapsulate the coaching manual for batting in the future.

  7. “how one man changed the course of cricketing history” – a fine piece like this could’ve done without hyperbole like that.

  8. I am always on the lookout for articles on Sehwag. After reading your piece, I have realized the reason for the dearth on the number of essays about him. I especially like your analogy with artists. He may truly have spawned a new kind of batting and we might need a couple more generations of cricketers to truly understand his impact. In the recently concluded India-Australia test at WACA, we saw Warner doing a Sehwag-esque century (Sehwag himself had told him while at Delhi Daredevils that he is more suitable for Test cricket). 20 years down the line, if (a BIG IF) we see the general role of openers change from the traditional new-ball-shine-removers, we will look back at the 2000s and declare Sehwag as one of the most significant things to happen in cricket. Which is why I agree with you that a contemporary article on Sehwag is almost impossible to write.

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