When Virender Sehwag takes the field against England at Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium on November 23 for the second Test of the series, he will become the ninth Indian cricketer to play 100 Test matches. In a career spanning a decade, the dashing right-hand batsman has enthralled cricket lovers the world over with his barn-storming exploits and, most importantly, was instrumental in India's rise to No. 1 in the Test rankings.
Though his numbers are exceptionally impressive in Tests - 8448 runs at 50.89 and a strike-rate of 82.45, with 23 hundreds and 32 half-centuries - what makes Sehwag stand out is the impact he made on the cricketing landscape. It wouldn't be an exaggeration to assert that Sehwag is to cricket what The Beatles were to music, and Apple is to technology. No other batsman in the history of cricket revolutionized the game the way Sehwag has done with his innovative, and uncluttered, approach. Ian Chappell, the former Australian captain, once proclaimed that Sehwag is next to Don Bradman as far as ability to bat with an uncluttered mind in concerned.
The apt example to exemplify the above statement would be Sehwag's 68-ball 83 against England in Chennai in 2008. India had been set a target of 387 when Andrew Strauss declared England's second innings at tea on day four. Any team would have only conceived to draw the Test at that stage, but Sehwag tore into England's bowlers and compiled a 117-run stand for first wicket in 23 overs which set the tone for the rest of the batsmen. On a memorable final day, Sachin Tendulkar scored an unbeaten century to attain the target on the last day. But it was Sehwag who was duly adjudged Man of the Match.
Tellingly, Sehwag is the only Indian batsman to score a Test triple-century. Not just once, but twice - 309 against Pakistan in Multan in 2004 and 319 against South Africa in Chennai in 2008.
Whats more, he is part of an elite list of just four batsmen to score in excess of 300 twice (Bradman, Brian Lara and Chris Gayle being the others). Of Sehwag's 23 hundreds, 14 have been above 150, six of them double-centuries. His strike-rate of 82.45 is the best (the qualification being a cut-off of 2000 runs) in the history of Test cricket. Most of his hundreds have been run-a-ball knocks which enabled India pile up massive totals and gave ample time to their bowlers to have a go at the opposition.
Sehwag's career has been a roller-coaster ride, just like his style of play. As soon as he started his career, he was tagged a limited-overs specialist and purists cast aspersions on his technique and footwork. He was written off as a batsman whose temperament was inadequate for the longer version of the game. But Sehwag meted out a stunning riposte to his detractors by scoring a century on Test debut against South Africa at Bloemfontein in 2001. India were 68 for 4 when Viru, as he's affectionately called, joined his idol Sachin Tendulkar at the crease.
He proceeded to match Tendulkar stroke for stroke as the pair stitched together a 220-run stand for the fifth wicket, though it couldn't stave off a nine-wicket defeat. The next couple of years went well for Sehwag as he unfurled runs in England after being promoted to the top of the order (64 and 106 in first two Tests as opener), a modern-day classic against Australia on day one of the 2003 Boxing Day Test and scored that Multan triple to set up India's first Test win in Pakistan.
Yet despite his success in Tests, Sehwag was accused of throwing his wicket away at times playing reckless - and ridiculous- shots, and not doing justice to his immense potential. His unorthodox technique and insouciant demeanor have always been under scrutiny, and the murmurs swell into howls when runs dry up. During Greg Chappell’s reign as a coach (2006-2007), Sehwag went through a torrid time and was eventually dropped from the team.
Chappell later said that Sehwag was the biggest disappointment of his tenure and frustrated him with his stubbornness and unwillingness to adapt himself and train hard. "Viru was one of the great frustrations of my time with the team is an understatement. Sadly, he continues to disappoint and is in danger of squandering his God-given talent. The person who is least likely to be fazed by all of this is Virender himself. He did not want to dedicate himself to taking his talent to its zenith. He was happy to turn up and play and accept what came his way. No amount of cajoling from me could shift him from his insouciant way," wrote Chappell.
Sehwag made his comeback for India's tour of Australia in 2007-2008 after a hiatus of a year when Chappell resigned as a coach of India. He roared back to resounding form by scoring a mature second-innings 151 to avert defeat in Adelaide, which set off a golden run. In the next three years Sehwag scored 10 centuries and 3515 runs from 34 Tests, beating his previous best with 319 against South Africa in Chennai – the quickest triple-century ever. His other remarkable innings during this period were an unbeaten 201 out of India's first-innings of 329 in Galle, setting the tone for a series-leveling win over Sri Lanka, and 293 against the same opposition at the Brabourne Stadium in December 2009.
However, form deserted him again towards the end of 2010 and Sehwag entered a two-year, 16-Test century drought which ended when he reached three figures against England in Ahmedabad last week. Questions were raised about his future and a lot of people were calling for his head but Sehwag once again exhibited the fact that he backs himself thoroughly.
To be fair and objective, Sehwag has unperformed overseas - he averages 27.80 in England, 20.00 in New Zealand and 25.46 in South Africa - and his average falls to a paltry 30.45 in the team's second innings. Despite these blips, one cannot take away the fact Sehwag ripped apart the coaching manuals to shreds, nurtured a style of his own and stuck to his guns to forge a successful Test career. His pugnacious and enterprising batting style makes him one of the most audacious and exciting batsmen ever to play cricket. As Viv Richards once pointed out, "Being aggressive is a part of Sehwag's strategic acumen, not a display of flippant mindset."