Virender Sehwag’s art of living
Hyderabad, Aug 28: Deep inside his heart every successful sportsman yearns for the days when he played the sport just for the love of it; because it made him happy. The time when he was a stranger to the fear of failure, never had to worry about how his performance would affect his bank balance or what the scribes would write about him. In today’s highly commercialised and competitive world, it’s ridiculously naive to expect any professional sportsmen to play with that degree of innocence. If someone, even after tasting success at the highest level, can play his sport for the very reason he started playing it as a kid, he’s got to be special. And Virender Sehwag indeed is.
Watching Sehwag bat is an emotionally turbulent experience, for he is capable of evoking pure delight and utter anguish in a matter of few seconds. But one thing is guaranteed: There’s never a dull moment when he’s wielding his merry willow. Listening to Sehwag talk is equally entertaining, minus the anxiousness. He talks like he bats – fearless, simple and straight from the heart. There’s no pretence, no false modesty or coats of sugar on his words. And yet, there’s no hint of arrogance. He smiles generously, says things that make you smile and means every word he says.
In an ingenuous chat with bcci.tv, this mesmerising batsman opened up about his incredibly simple approach to batting and life. His words proved that when you don’t fear failure, you’re never too far from success.
When analysing your batting, experts list down hand-eye coordination, balance and fearlessness as your strengths. What according to you is your biggest strength?
I think it’s the mental strength. I have the self-confidence and the belief that I can play well against any team and score against any bowling attack. International cricket is all about mental toughness. If you’re strong in your mind and can control your mind, you can perform against anybody. That’s my biggest strength.
Is your batting philosophy as simple as, ‘see ball, hit ball’?
Absolutely yes. If I see the ball, Ii try to hit it. As a kid, I played a lot of 10-12 over matches. I was a middle-order batsman then. I got to face only 15-16-odd balls and had to make the most of them. Since then my approach has been to score off every ball. That style has stuck with me at the international level as well.
Of late you seem to have changed your approach in the beginning of an innings, especially in the shorter formats. You are more patient and determined to stay at the wicket. How did this change come about?
Yes, now I’m a little more careful about how the wicket is behaving, whether the ball is swinging or not and how the bowling attack is. I give a little more time to myself to understand the conditions and situation well and then plan my innings accordingly. Having said that, if somebody bowls a half-volley on a green top, I’ll still go after it and I’ll still play my square cuts if the ball is pitched short outside the off-stump. But if a bowler is bowling in good areas, I have to give respect to the new ball rather than the bowler. If I do that and play 10-12 overs with caution, the ball gets old by the time and the bowlers start to get a bit tired. Then, I can take them on.
For a batsman, confidence is imperative to his form. How much does it matter to someone like you, who always seems confident, irrespective of whether the runs come or not?
The important thing is to be happy, whether you score a zero or a 300. You just go out there and give your best; sometimes you click, sometimes you don’t. One should always be happy, irrespective of what you achieve in a match or in life. That’s how I live my life. Even if I fail to score in an innings, I keep smiling. I tell myself there will always be a next innings where I can work harder, put in a bit more effort and score runs.
Does this mindset help you move on so easily after missing a landmark? When you got out on 293 in the Mumbai Test, everyone was shattered except you.
My parents always told me, you should always be happy in life. It doesn’t matter if you have one billion rupees in your bank account or one rupee. This is one life you get and you’d rather spend it enjoying whatever you have, rather than thinking, ‘Oh, I should have scored seven more runs or I should get more money.’ That’s my nature and that’s what my parents have taught me.
When a batsman gets out to a rash shot, he mulls over it, watches the replay and tries to avoid the mistake the next time. How do you react in such a situation?
Most of the times [when] I throw my wicket away, be it a limited-overs game or a Test match, I go over the top trying to hit a four or a six, mistime it and get out. That’s my game. As long as my team and the coach are happy with how I play, I don’t have any problems with getting out like that.
Most attacking batsmen like you play unorthodox shots like the sweep, reverse-sweep, switch hit or scoop. These fancy shots have never caught your interest?
I tried playing the reverse sweep and the slog sweep a couple of times, but I’ve never tried to play the switch hit or the scoop. I have to look at my strengths rather than try to do something different. I play a lot of upper cuts to short balls. If you can score at a strike-rate of over 100 by playing proper cricketing shots, why do you need to play those risky shots?
When do you play the sweep?
Only if the spinner bowls a bit slower and flights the ball, I try the slog sweep. Otherwise, I prefer stepping out and hitting him straight over his head.
Is there a better hitter of the cricket ball than you?
There are a lot of players who’re better [hitters] than me. In my team, there’s Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli, Rohit Sharma, MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh – they hit the ball harder than I do. In other teams, there’s David Warner, Shane Watson, Kevin Pietersen. In every team there are a couple of such batsmen who can hit long sixes.
Is there any bowler in the world who can make Virender Sehwag nervous?
Every time when I go to the crease and prepare to face the first ball, I’m nervous and there are butterflies in my tummy. I never show it because if the bowler senses it, he’ll come hard at me and try to put me under pressure. I have to send across a message to the bowler, ‘I’m here to face you with a lot of aggression and confidence, whether I play a defensive shot or an attacking one.’
Who’s the most difficult bowler you’ve faced?
It depends on my form. If I’m in good nick and am scoring runs freely, I only have to be wary of the best bowlers in the attack. But when the runs aren’t coming, every bowler becomes difficult.
Recently, I asked Chris Gayle how he would get you out. He said he’ll get you stumped so that you don’t get a sniff of the ball. Your thoughts?
He did that once; he got me out stumped. Different teams make different strategies to stop my runs or get me out. When I’m in good form, their plans don’t work. It gets difficult to get me out. But when I’m not in a good space, I can get out even to the most ordinary deliveries.
What is the difference between opening the batting with Sachin Tendulkar and Gautam Gambhir?
When I’m batting with Sachin Tendulkar, there’s very less pressure on me because the opponents are all concentrating on getting him out. With Gautam, the bowlers are worried about getting me out rather than him. Hence I have to be careful. Also, Gautam and I are very good friends, and the communication between us is very good.
What’s the one thing you’d want to take from Tendulkar’s batting?
The Straight drive. I don’t think anyone can play that shot better than he does.
Batsmen often talk about being in that run-scoring ‘zone’. Do you believe in that theory?
No, I’ve never been in that zone. I have asked Tendulkar, Dravid and Laxman about it, and they told me when they’re in the zone, they know they can score big runs. I could never relate to it. I probably would have been in that space during my big knocks – the two triple hundreds and the 293 – unknowingly. But I never felt anything different.
If a young aspiring batsman wants to bat like Sehwag, which is the most important quality he should possess?
He should have the self-belief that he can score runs just by being himself rather than copying someone else. If he’s mentally strong, he can bat like me.