India's greatest second-innings batsman on watching Virender Sehwag – who will play his 100th Test in Mumbai – from up close and personal.
Virender Sehwag has wowed fans across the world in his 11-year international career, scoring big centuries which tested the best of bowling attacks and helped set up some of Indian cricket’s most famous overseas victories. One of his legendary batting team-mates, and arguably India’s greatest second-innings batsman, VVS Laxman, was witness to Sehwag’s genius up close and personal.
Ahead of what will be Sehwag’s 100th Test – against England in Mumbai on Friday – Laxman spoke to Cricketnext on watching and batting with Sehwag and just how special a player the Indian opener is. Over to him …
On the Sehwag effect: To me, Virender Sehwag is the purest form of entertainment. It is always joyful to watch him whether at crease when batting along with him, or from dressing room, or at television. It's a monumental achievement to play 100 Test matches for the country. His record speaks for itself. It is incredible. He's the most destructive batsman of the modern era. He has played a spate of match-winning knocks for the country, and I heartily wish that he unleashes another 'Viru Special' in his 100th Test to make the milestone even more memorable.
On batting with Sehwag: He takes pressure off you with the manner in which he scores runs. His approach is completely uncomplicated and he makes batting look so easy. He breaks the spirit of bowlers by going after them audaciously and taking them to the cleaners. It helps you to capitalize on the momentum spawned by him. Also, when he's in his element and striking the ball well, he sings a lot of songs to keep the atmosphere peppy. It was a sheer pleasure batting with him.
On first meeting Sehwag: I first met Viru during our ODI against Australia at Bangalore in 2001. He blasted a quick-fire fifty and snapped up three wickets to fetch the Man-of-the-Match award. Australia’s attack comprised of Glenn McGrath, Shane Warne and Damien Fleming, but Viru didn't show any anxiety and belted them with nonchalance. We knew from there that he was a very special player of rare pedigree.
On Sehwag's first Test hundred: There was talk of Sehwag being a limited-overs specialist but our captain Sourav Ganguly had tremendous faith in him. He maintained that at the end of the day the amount of runs one scores is all that matters, and that was Sehwag damn good at that. I think for a string of reasons, Viru did amazingly well to score a hundred on his Test debut. Firstly, playing your first Test is always a nervous moment and to add that pressure of playing your debut Test overseas in alien conditions against a formidable side like South Africa.
He was unfazed by all these things and demonstrated sturdy mettle. We were 68 for 4 when Viru came out to bat and what an innings he produced. Sachin Tendulkar and he added 200-odd runs (220) for the fifth wicket, and both of them played some sizzling shots. Sehwag was outstanding on back foot, but the shot which stood out for me was the straight drive he unfurled against Makhaya Ntini in the first hour after lunch.
On Sehwag's finest innings: Apart from his debut hundred on Test debut, there are three other innings of his which I find noteworthy. First is his triple-hundred at Multan. That was the first triple-hundred by an Indian in Test matches, and the manner in which he got to the milestone (slamming Saqlain Mushtaq for six over deep midwicket) was astounding. Just a few months ago, he was out for 195 at the MCG against Australia playing a similar shot, but that didn't deter him from bringing up his maiden triple-hundred with a six.
His double-hundred at Galle (201*) against Sri Lanka in 2008 when he carried his bat was an equally sterling innings. It was a difficult track to bat on and the ball was turning square. He was the only batsman who scored in that Test match. In the end, his innings was the difference between India and Sri Lanka, and we won the Test comprehensively.
Then his marathon triple-hundred against the South African attack at Chennai in hot and humid conditions was a marvellous effort. South Africa had piled up 540 in their first innings, and the onus was on the openers to provide us a good start. The way Sehwag went about scoring runs after spending almost two days in the field was stunning. He got to his triple-hundred in some 270-odd balls (278) balls and it still is the fastest triple-century in the history of Test cricket.