2001 Bloemfontein – India was 4 down for 68 and it seemed that the series would go along similar lines of the team’s previous tours. You joined your batting hero for the first time in tests and we were counting minutes for the imminent collapse to happen. And then for the next 2 sessions we saw glorious cover drives, straight drives , late cuts, upper cut being hit against a bowling line up of Pollock, Ntini and Kallis. For the next 47 overs, the Master and his loyal disciple went at over 4 r.p.o putting up a partnership of 220 . It felt like Sachin Tendulkar was batting at both ends , the similarity was striking and so was the difference. The audacious, fearless Sachin that we knew when he had first started to play; but later went on to curb his carefree, adventurous streak. You with that century on debut brought back those memories and kept them alive for as long as you played. I still have the Sportstar that labelled Sachin as the Kamikaze Kid after his blitzkrieg attack on NZ soil when he got 82 of 49 as first time opener in an ODI. You however proved to be the true heir to that title. Your simple philosophy that defined your entire cricketing career – See Ball Hit Ball. You, who only thought in 4s and 6s, you who defied the defensive mind-set that Indian cricket was until the 90s. 2001 Kolkata was the turning point and later that year we saw you debut in style, realising we were going to be in for a real batting treat in the next decade if you clicked along with the Fab4. And how well you clicked, you carved your own niche, your own space , your own style amongst the best batting greats in cricketing history.
An aggressive, attacking test opener – India had no clue how to deal with this phenomenon. She was used to the Gavaskar legacy, the slow and steady battles time and draws the match. But you were the stark opposite. You got to 300+ twice in your career, the highest score by an Indian before that was 281 by VVS and before him 236 by Gavaskar. You hit 300 in a day vs. SA in 2008 and then almost repeated that feat when you mauled the SL attack at Brabourne, Mumbai 2009. You shredded it to pieces and threw them all over the ground , such was your onslaught, staying unbeaten on 284 that day!. And the next day, you got out at 293, our hearts in our mouth trying to fathom how could you miss out on a 3 triple centuries record! But you walked off nonchalantly, a la Viv Richardseque trait. And we probably loved that about you – your I don’t care a damn attitude! If the ball is to be hit, I will hit it no matter what the score is 0 or 195. It took us sometime to get used to it, but we eventually did! If at MCG we were gasping seeing you get out attempting a 6 when on 195, it just helped us to be mentally prepared months later to see you go for that 6 again, to become the first Indian to score a triple century in tests at Multan.
How the numbers never really mattered or bogged you down! How you breathed audacity every moment you stepped out on that 22 yards and how forthright you were with zero regrets. We owe it to the fab five for the golden decade; but we can never discount your contribution to that golden era we fans witnessed. You defied the quintessential test opening batsman definition – you were always in an all out attack mode and even when defending, you were probably thinking how to attack the next ball. That momentous win in the Chennai 2008 test was largely your doing. As much as it is touted as Sachin’s test – it was your 83 off 68 balls on day 4 that blunted the Eng. attack and left an easy tension free chase for the rest. How easily you had lifted the pressure off! You were our Mad Max who could avenge the mauling of Indian bowlers. You were our Matador who could easily take the bull by the horns and rip it apart. And at one stage, the opponents feared you the most amongst that prodigious line-up. And you at best were probably unperturbed by the happenings around you, absolutely non-fussed and went about your business like only you could.
Your ability to instil a fear in the opponent bowlers and demoralize them , which is why that 21 in the 2003 WC Vs. Pak, however small the number looks, that partnership of 53 with Sachin in 5.4 overs set the stage for that momentous Tendulkar onslaught.
As much as folks argued your style was more suited to the ODI format, you were one of the best attacking bats test cricket ever saw. Only fools would call you a fluke cricketer – which lucky or fluke cricketer gets 15+ 150 scores out of his 23 centuries in test cricket, 2 triple centuries and 3 double hundreds in that!
Your fearless, berserk, audacious, arrogant , mind-boggling batting. You were the antithesis to the calm , steady Dravid and the uber stylish VVS. You had Ganguly’s brash streak and your cricketing hero – Sachin’s stroke play & timing. Your hand-eye-bat coordination was impeccable when you were in prime form. You were one of a kind and there will be none like you. Your batting defined insanity and you had us gasping every time you pulled off that upper late cut or the cover drive with such panache and nonchalance. You were immensely talented , and along with VVS united us fans who were divided into the Sachin-Ganguly-Dravid camps. There in lies your achievement. We all remained undivided Viru loyalists. You remained everyone’s favourite Maverick and no one is ever going to lay claim to that position in our cricketing fandom.
For all the madness and the insane pleasure your batting gave us, we cannot thank you enough Virender Sehwag! You have left a legacy that will be difficult to match!