Virender Sehwag always needs to make a point and prove to the world that he’s right.
He needs to make a statement and end it with a full stop if possible. That’s who he is – a straight-talking gun slinging cowboy who fears no one. Or at least that’s what he likes to believe.
There was a time when his ego was celebrated as quirky – he would come out and say things that you wanted every cricketer to say but you knew they wouldn’t. In the age of diplomat cricketers, he was like a breath of fresh air; he was the humanity we seek in our stars and his Maa added to that earthy feel.
Sourav Ganguly was great at getting the best out of his players, he chose his words carefully. Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid were the perfect diplomats. VVS Laxman never had much to say. Anil Kumble had a firm control over what he said. But Sehwag was the odd man out – he could talk back to seniors, dismiss the opposition, belittle copybook technique; he could do it all and get away with it.
But now, that same ego inspires anger.
When you see him sit out an entire practice session – as he did in Sri Lanka – you wonder what’s wrong; you wonder why he doesn’t speak to the captain during a nets session; you wonder why there is no back-slapping; you wonder whether he is feeding his own ego or playing for the country?
Sure, Sehwag won’t ever say he is playing for his ego. Sure, no one on the Indian team will say that either. But it’s pretty obvious.
In Sri Lanka, watching India’s two openers – Gautam Gambhir and Sehwag – was an interesting study of contrasts.
Gambhir, the junior of the two, would spend hours in the nets trying to iron out kinks in his technique. After doing that he would then make his way to the coach Duncan Fletcher and they would once again talk technique. This happened over and over again throughout the World T20 in Sri Lanka. The focus, clearly, wasn’t just Twenty20.
But Sehwag, on the other hand, was rarely ever seen speaking to Fletcher. He may have done it behind the scenes but certainly didn’t do it during practice sessions. He kept his distance. The right-hander counts his ability to think positively in difficult times as one of his strengths but isn’t this stretching it a little?
Sehwag has always had the same formula for all formats and occasions – he attacks without ever thinking about defence. But this is a moment that calls not for aggression but a little maturity. It might be more difficult then we imagine. Can he function without that ego which allows him to dominate attacks?
When the going is good, that very same ego cloaks him with an air of superiority which reduces the bowler to nothing. But now it's forcing him along a path of no return.
Sehwag still smiles but it isn’t a smile that puts you at ease – instead it fills you with uneasiness. He is the man who has single-handedly won matches for India – in Tests won, he averages 56.42 as against his career average of 50.64; in ODIs won, his average is 46.35… much higher than his career average of 35.20. In T20s, the difference in average isn’t that great – 24.45 against 21.88 but then he hasn’t played as many matches (just 19 mts).
These are stunning numbers and he isn’t done. Still there is talk... not of what he does on the field but what he does he does off it and in the dressing room. A story on CricketNext speaks about how the Dhoni-Sehwag rift forced the BCCI to intervene and this isn't the last we've heard of it.
Indian cricket needs Sehwag. Mahendra Singh Dhoni knows that and so does the batsman from Delhi. They both like the money. They both like the job. So what’s the problem?
This is not the moment for Sehwag to pamper his ego, this is the moment for him to stand up and be counted as one of the seniors and help in the team re-building reprocess. India had a great team culture when Gary Kirsten was around, now Fletcher and Dhoni need to do the same before trying to improve performance.
Former India coach John Wright once told Sehwag, ‘Don’t apologise when you get out. Instead, learn something from it, because in every dismissal there is a lesson to be learnt.’
It really is time for him to show what he’s learned after more than 11 years in international cricket. Sehwag can’t allow his ego to do the leading. It’s about time he grasped control again because whether he likes to hear it or not – it’s tearing the team apart.