He must have a pair on him, eh, that Sehwag? A king pair... I mean, to play a shot like that, in a situation like that, you’d need a couple of water melons squeezed inside the old protector. Grandes cojones, hombre.
Or perhaps you simply need to be insane. Or reckless. Or tired. Stupid, maybe. Even cowardly…
But let’s not speculate here as to why Sehwag threw the kitchen fucking sink at a king pair-avoiding length delivery off the world’s second-best swing bowler in murky light on a new-ball deck. No, let us wait a couple of paragraphs. Then we’ll spew forth our ill-informed conjecture, after some facts (well, perceptions masquerading as facts) have been considered.
First up, there’s the Asia-to-Blighty Respect-for-Conditions quotient – a drum banged so long and hard by Geoffrey Boycott on TMS during the Edgbaston Test, you’d have thought he’d marched straight in from the Shankill Road. The line of thinking, a corridor of hyper-certainty, goes thus: ‘e swans in to England, has a jazz game in Northampton (essentially still Nagpur; the ground’s name even sounds like an Indian tennis umpire at the Empire Builder’s Grand Slam Final between clay-courter Hernán Cortés and ol’ Cecil: “Ad-Wantage Road”), a game in which he makes a scratchy 8 against the second-string attack of a second-rate team, then goes straight in to the Test side. Cue apoplexy from Boycs, a man who very much likes his preparation. Indeed, for the bigger series, he advocates a minimum of seven three-day warm-up matches (ideally running parallel to another series in which he’s already playing, thus allowing him to bat for 14 hours a day. Plus nets). But Geoffrey, Geoffrey – they didn’t fly him over to watch now, did they? And it is not impossible to come straight off an injury and make a score (as was definitively proven, I think, by my post-broken elbow 40-ball half-century against Ottis Gibson in 1999).
Anyway, this is not about first principles: Thou Shalt Get Used to Nibble (coincidentally, also what the team nutritionist is advising him). No, the main thing was the manner of the pair. More than anything else, the dismissals smacked of mental sluggishness. Or end-of-Empire decadence.
In the first innings, you’ll recall, he dropped his hands too tardily to avoid a shortish (but not viciously climbing) ball from Stuart Broad, gloving to the ‘keeper. He then stood around – literally – for a couple of days while India’s ‘bowlers’ ‘toiled’ to ‘contain’ England, occasionally venturing off his shooting stick to console a fellow ‘fielder’ for a drop or a misfield. He didn’t even bowl his handy part-time twirlers, Dhoni instead utilising Suresh ‘Would you be so kind as to pitch it up to me, old chap?’ Raina’s penguin off-breaks.* Finally, he strapped ‘em on and, well, you know the rest… As he trudged off – I think he trudged off; I would imagine him to have trudged off – I half-expected him to be intercepted by Plod and arrested for driving without due care and attention. I mean, he looked trolleyed.
Cue what I thought would have been screamingly obvious headlines in the Indian popular press: “Viru-lent casualness to Indian efforts”. In actual fact, The Times of India and The Hindustan Times were both sombre and reserved in their assessment, although the oneindia website offered this Sidhuian synopsis of the “Nizam of Najafgarh”: “With caution thrown so irresponsibly and one would daresay [sic] insanely, to the wind, Sehwag had bitten into the bait wholeheartedly… India were 3/1 at that stage... and [there was] no hint of gritty counter-offence to look forward to, just another slip downward into the swamp of humiliation”.
No, the real post-innings Viru vituperation – the sheer puritanical exasperation of it all – came from the English press. For instance, Nick Hoult in The Telegraph said he “deserved the barbs [because] in certain circumstances fame and fortune are better replaced by fight and fortitude,” while the normally sanguine Mike Selvey in The Guardian pronounced thusly from the press box on (very, very) high:
It was dismal cricket, a disgrace actually, from a player of his quality, no matter his entertainment quality. No doubt it will be predicated on Sehwag being Sehwag and “this is how he plays”. Not good enough. Not nearly good enough. Some discretion was needed to get through to the next day. It was the mindless play of someone who believes he might be above the industrious norms of some.
The slightly sanctimonious tone of such verdicts is perhaps borne of an understandable frustration at the utter one-sidedness of the series (and maybe its ramifications for the future of Tests), but they are doubtless also in part impelled by some atavistic impulse that leads us to search for heroes – for transcendence – in sport, a yearning deep within our DNA that Sehwag embodied some superhuman power, able, even after 26 half-arsed throw downs from Munaf, to show up Cook’s piffling 294 for the sport-destroying yawnfest that (the IPL would have us believe) it was. I mean, when Sehwag made 293 against Sri Lanka in December 2009, he made it from 291 balls fewer than Cook. (And let us not speak of his fastest-in-history fully-fledged triple centuries).
But he couldn’t. His feet of clay went nowhere; he swished, shnicked, and shuffled off. Veni, vidi, Viru.
Clearly, Sehwag is a polariser of opinion – indeed, following Gower, Gilchrist, Jayasuriya and others, he’s the latest incarnation of the Swashbuckler’s Dilemma, a complex phenomenon that elicits just that sort of frankly hypocritical love-hate dynamics from the cricketing punditariat. “Madness” they yell, while praising Dhoni for breaking his run of bad form by…playing some shots. Madness, indeed. “Stick or twist? Stick or twist? Stick or twist?” he’ll gabble, banging his head against the bathroom mirror...
Besides all that, in an era of steroidally buff sportsmen, we should feel a deep, wistful contentment that the slightly pudgy, samosa-munching Sehwag can excel, that a man twice as likely to be seen hob-nobbing at the gymkhana as bench-pressing at a gymnasium is still able to make a triple-fucking-hundred in Madras (which any Cook’ll tell you is pretty hot).
Lord only knows what Duncan the Taciturn is making of all this, sat there with hulking inscrutability in a dressing room about as sanctified and ready for sweeping change as the Vatican (apologies for the Sehwagianly careless religious metaphor, for I would not want it to be presumed that they had a 27% chance of being career pederasts). But, beneath that outward impassivity, Behind the Shades, tangled up in the rarefied BCCI politics, he surely cannot be calm; no, Fletch – mentally, at least – must be flapping like a C-stream English language supply teacher at Knuckleduster Comprehensive who’s just been told he’s going to have a new asshole ripped for him by the nice young couple rearing their family at the back of the class.
They do what they want. They can no longer be disciplined. The power is theirs. And the same goes for schoolkids.
Anyway, at some point very soon – probably late tomorrow, maybe even Sunday if weather and Straussian conservatism kick in – Virender Sehwag will come bouncing down the Oval steps – literally bouncing, should he stumble – and out to the middle to try and make some runs. Any runs (although a drop to short cover and scampered single isn’t likely). Otherwise, he’ll be doing what most other men on the verge of a mid-life crisis are doing: staring at an Audi that they don’t really want. 0000. Vorsprung durch Technik, as they say in Yorkshire: “Progress through Tech-neeeek”.
The whole of India – the whole of cricket – hopes it’s temporary, of course. But what if it’s not a blip? What if this is the slippery slope?
Perhaps the decline is all down to his hair loss – or rather, down to the eternal Cricketers’ Cycle of hair loss and renewal: the perennial waltz of Mother Nature and Advanced Hair Studio. Warming down after all those 45-minute IPL slogfests (or “innings”, as Sehwag calls them) against Kallis, Warne and Doug the Rug, they must have chatted about something. One can only assume it was about re-seeding old wicket ends. Only, now that he has his hair back, he’s lost his powers: an inverse Samson. Forgive me Delilah, I just couldn’t take any more… (Of being a slapdash slaphead, presumably).
I don’t know whether Sehwag’s a triskaidekaphobe or not, but as only the 13th bagger of a king pair in a 2003-Test history, joining other such luminaries as Adam Gilchrist and, erm, Javed Omar, I guess he could consider himself the victim of ill luck – until the point, that is, that he starts to analyse how it actually happened. But it’s not obvious that Viru has yet reached the point of thinking about it at all.