When I think of a numberless jersey in cricket, there is only one man who comes to my mind; our very own Viru- The Nawab of Najafgarh.
Virender Sehwag, who is also referred to as the Vivian Richards of modern day cricketing era, justifies the title with his attacking and dominating stroke play. From his first match on the field to becoming the player of the decade, he sported the numberless jersey for a reason. It’s a metaphoric representation of the level of confidence and self belief this man had, where skill overrides luck and superstition.
Pursuing his passion for the game, he started his Ranji career in the year 1997-1998 for Delhi with a numberless white jersey. He got his first break in international cricket in 1999 against Pakistan, but he couldn’t utilise the opportunity as he was dismissed quickly by a fast paced delivery from Shoaib Akhtar.
Opportunity knocked on his door again when Sachin was ruled out from the team in 2001 and he played instead, a match winning knock of 58 off 54 deliveries that eventually paved way for India’s victory. Later, he went on to play a blinder against NZ – a 69 ball ton! Now, this was something to convince the selectors to give him a regular opener’s slot in the Indian ODI team.
But the fame and respect he got from this game was mainly due to his flamboyant style of playing in Test cricket and the way he revolutionised it. The fairy tale began in the year 2001 against the Proteas, when he made his first maiden ton. His mantra of playing was always crystal clear- look at the ball and if it is in the range, hit it! As simple as that. That day marked the birth of a true legend in the cricketing arena and he never looked back.
In the year 2003, Sehwag scored a vintage 195 against Australia on Boxing Day at The MCG. Then, in 2004 at Multan, he became the only Indian to have scored a triple hundred, which gave him the title “The Sultan of Multan”. Square cuts, upper cuts and late cuts were the prime weapons in his arsenal. Also, he was criticised on numerous occasions for his carefree attitude and was even termed as a flat track bully and a sophisticated slogger. But he trusted his hand-eye co-ordination and silenced his critics by scoring a 319 against SA.
With this, he became the first man to score the fastest triple ton (278 balls) and the fastest 250 (207 balls) and the much awaited tag of the highest Indian individual run scorer. After this feat, there was hardly any award left for him to bag. In the year 2008, he got the Wisden Leading Cricketer of the Year award, which he retained the next year. He was also bestowed the Arjuna Award, the Padmashree, and the ICC Cricketer of the Year award. But the fact is that he never played for records. How on earth can any man charge down the ground and aim for a six when he is on a 195 or 295?
Soon began his grey patch. He was dropped from the side for an upcoming Asia Cup on fitness grounds. There were rumours about differences between the Indian skipper Dhoni and Sehwag. India, as we all know, is a country where cricket is beyond religion. If you perform, you are the God; if you don’t, you are on the hit list. The Indian media continued its rage against Viru and he was constantly criticised for not getting enough runs under his belt, his sloppy fielding and fitness issues.
His career graph maintained a negative slope throughout Duncan Fletcher’s reign. His strike rate was a major thing to boast about. Whether he was in form or not, it was constantly above 100 in all the formats of the game. But loyal Viru fans didn’t lose their faith in him, and it was time he proved his dominance in the 50 over format as well. The stage was set. He went on to score 219 against WI at Indore to become the first man on the planet to score an ODI double ton and a Test triple ton. No doubt he was rated alongside the likes of Sir Donald Bradman and Brian Lara.
The numberless jersey controversy took a toll in the media when India started its 2011 World Cup campaign against Bangladesh, which got belted left and right by Viru and the Indian team was targeted by the media and ICC officials because he was in his Numberless Jersey again. But no one took it seriously since the ultimate goal was to focus on the games and to lift the Cup after 28 years.
After 319 and 219, the number “19” proved statistically lucky for him as even in the Indian Premier League, he scored a mammoth 119 for Delhi Daredevils. But he never gave that number any priority and his jersey remained numberless. His aura always had this calmness.
Every individual has his own charm and enigma. What I feel is that he had a naturally controlled aggression blended with tremendous amount of will power and passion. He knew how and when to target a specific bowler and de-rail him through his reckless hitting abilities. It is only because of this man that I still regard Test cricket as the purest and the most entertaining form of cricket. I think with the new generation cricketers lined up, with a heavy heart I must admit that it’s the end of the road for Sehwag. For whatever time he played for India, he played his part, he gave his 100% and he was the most feared batsman of his time. His staggering average above 50 in Tests justifies everything. I hope to see his prodigy from his school in Jhajjar, Haryana where he is mentoring school kids.
One simply does not forget legends like him. Your scintillating knocks will always be cherished, Viru Pa.