The nation gasped in a collective sigh, as Sehwag announced his retirement from International cricket and IPL last evening. It came as a rude shock exactly 5 days after Zaheer Khan also announced his retirement from international cricket. Both instrumental pillars of the Indian cricket team, these men have inspired an entire generation of budding cricketers.
We grew up on generous helpings of Sehwag, Sachin, Laxman, Zaheer, Dravid and Ganguly. That was what cricket meant for us. Those names were taken with sheer reverence and respect.
Their retirement brings with itself a sense of bittersweet nostalgia. It takes you back to a time when we sat for hours in front of our television screens, biting our nails every time there was a cricket match. It also reminds us that, it is now a bygone era, one that will be remembered forever.
They taught us what true sportsmanship means, they showed us what team spirit means. They were chivalrous in victory and courageous in defeat. They are what legends are made of.
The Nawab of Najafgarh
Most of us have spent our teenage years in absolute awe as we watched him swing his bat in majestic splendor. He created a niche style of batting and showed the world how it’s done.
Sehwag brought with him an uncomplicated, fearless approach to batting, unfazed by either the reputation of the bowler running in or the match situation. This sometimes made batting look deceptively simple as his effortlessly, almost insultingly brutal onslaughts made the best attacks look ordinary. This was made possible by a combination of a razor sharp cricketing brain and breathtaking hand-eye coordination. Which is what made his wicket so prized, as his departure was invariably followed by a lull in the scoring rate as the new batsman took a few overs to settle down.
Sehwag was staggeringly unselfish, never reducing his scoring rate even when nearing batting milestones, of which there were many, including most memorably his career defining triple century against Pakistan in Multan, the first of his two triple hundreds. He remains the only Indian to have scored a triple century, and only the 4th in the world to have achieved that awe inspiring feat on more than one occasion, with illustrious company, viz. Bradman, Lara and Chris Gayle.
In many innings over the years, Sehwag initial heroics took the pressure off India’s middle order batting heroes Dravid, Tendulkar, Laxman and Ganguly, as he fended off, and often, destroyed the opposition’s fast bowling, before these legendary stroke makers came in to the crease.
Simply put, he was the stuff that dreams are made of.
The Baroda Boy
Zaheer Khan started his cricketing career by playing domestically for Baroda. His stunning technique and attractive good looks made him a star overnight. As the boys marveled at his talent, the girls drooled over his chocolate boy charms.
Zaheer Khan filled the void left after the retirement of the seasoned Javagal Srinath, taking on the mantle of spearheading India’s pace attack early in his career.
Plagued by injuries throughout, the speedster made up for what he lost in pace with ample guile and bowling smarts, often outwitting batsmen with variety and stratagem.
In a frequently unstable pace attack, as India tried many different fast bowlers over the first decade of the new millennium, Zaheer was the only constant, the only natural selection.
Zaheer’s presence at the top of the bowling line up lent our attack with a gravity experience and sharpness of polished, raw skill that didn’t allow opposition batsmen to run away with the game. This in turn allowed our spin attack, for many years the redoubtable duo of Kumble and Harbhajan, to come in and choke the innings altogether, on good days.
Zaheer played a crucial role in the rebuilding of India’s cricket team, rocked by the match fixing scandal of 2000, with a new skipper Sourav ‘Dada’ Ganguly at the helm of an affairs in uncertain times.
This surely marks a fascinating conclusion to an era of extraordinary cricket extravaganza. However, for years to come we shall fondly remember the grace and grandeur they brought to the game. The Kohlis’ and Kumars still have a lot to learn from these stalwarts. For these men have made Indian cricket what it is.
Cricket in India is much more than just a sport, it’s a religion, one that even atheists follow.