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Sehwag the coach? Bring him on, soonest

Wisden India logo Wisden India 28-12-2016
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It was 2003. Boxing Day. MCG. The first day of the third Test of the series, which started with India 1-0 up and ended with terms level at 1-1. Sourav Ganguly won the toss, opted to bat, and then sat back and watched as the Virender Sehwag jet plane took off.

Aakash Chopra’s 48 and Rahul Dravid’s 49 were support acts really … When Dravid fell at the end of the 73rd over, the scoreboard read 278 for 2. And when Sehwag finally perished, caught in the deep trying to hit a Simon Katich full toss for one more six to get from 195 to 201, India had gone to 311 for 4. He had batted for over five hours, five hours of dizzying batsmanship, a whirl of sixes and fours and, really, outrageous audacity.

Oh, many more runs have been scored by an individual in a day’s cricket, even Sehwag has done it more than once, most memorably when he hit 284 against Sri Lanka at Brabourne Stadium in 2009. But there was something about this one. It was at the MCG, for starters. No Shane Warne or Glenn McGrath, true, but it was Australia in Australia. And, maybe because of the way it ended – in such un-Test-like manner but a fashion so Sehwag-esque – there is the added bit of romance to it.

Watch: When Sehwag scored a century on Test debut

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Many years ago, in 1961, the Hindi film called Hum Dono starring Dev Anand had the song Main Zindagi Ka Saath Nibhaata Chala Gaya, Har Fikr Ko Dhuein Mein Udata Chala Gaya. Words that underscore a love for life, a chilled-out attitude towards failure, and waiting for the next big adventure. The rakish hero, the sort many of us want to be till the next exams or big crisis in the family hit us hard. Sehwag, that’s him.

And now, if reports are to be trusted, Sehwag could well be taking over as the next coach of Kings XI Punjab in the Indian Premier League. There has been no official statement from the franchise, but it appears so. Till last season, Sehwag was the team’s mentor. He might be moving up one step in the hierarchy as the team puts in motion plans of lifting itself from the bottom of the pile.

So Sehwag, who played by his own rules and refused to be bound by regulations and most parameters of normalcy (cricket-wise), might now become a coach. Fascinating.

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Sehwag, whom coaches and captains loved because of the way he could – and often did – turn a cricket match around on its head. Sehwag, whom coaches were also left frustrated by, because of his refusal to rein it in, to tone it down a notch in the best interests of the team. Even the mild-mannered John Wright, such a fan of the man, had more than one incident with Sehwag. The scene during the Lord’s Test in 2002, when Wright – as he himself wrote – grabbed Sehwag by the collar for throwing his wicket away, is probably the best known of these. Afterwards, Wright would come to terms with the method in Sehwag’s madness: “It is best not to get in his way or try to complicate him.”

I’ve always found the thrusting of supremely gifted athletes into coaching roles a bit tricky. There are examples of both: Brilliant athletes becoming competent coaches and others who did not, for whom the game came so naturally and so organically that getting into the nuances of the game, into strategy and tactics, didn’t quite work out right.

Kapil Dev as coach of the Indian cricket team, for example, was less successful than was hoped for. As was Javed Miandad in Pakistan. My most vivid memory of the 2010 football World Cup is not of any player but of Diego Maradona in, out, around and all over the touchlines. Half the time, it looked like he wanted to run out and do it himself – easier than explaining it to the boys.

Sure, it can work. If nothing else, someone like Kapil or Miandad or Maradona or, indeed, Sehwag can be a huge source of motivation, an inspirational presence in the dressing room, someone you want to impress, someone you don’t want to let down.

Now see-ball hit-ball is a good idea in Twenty20 cricket, so Sehwag is in his comfort zone there all right, with no one questioning footwork, or lack thereof (though, to reduce his batsmanship to that is blasphemous, and I am not doing that).

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One thing he will be at Kings XI, or wherever he takes up a coaching job, is the jovial older brother, the life of the party, the one who can keep up the mood in the camp even when the going’s not so good.

And if he can get the boys to match his attitude – forget what happened, look ahead to the next ball, the next match, keep their minds uncluttered – that could help in a big way too.

That aside, what?

Well, as for strategising – enough and more people with greater cricket intelligence than me have spoken about how Sehwag could have been an outstanding captain. His native intellect, great instinct and feel for making things happen, and not just with the bat, are assets. So, even if he might not be laptop-savvy – apart from tweeting – his cricket brain is likely to tick over, always in the direction of making things happen, of making the next ball a big one.

Does Sehwag fit into the template of a modern-day cricket coach? Certainly not. But, surely, that’s neither here and nor there. He didn’t fit into the template of an opening batsman and ended with 8207 Test runs from that position while, all along, revolutionising the job profile. Why not as coach too; go left-field, turn it all around? With a smile and a joke.

At any rate, Sehwag as coach means great times for people from my tribe. No one does (or did) a press conference better than him. If his Twitter timeline is any indicator, his funny bone is intact. So, whether it works for Kings XI Punjab or not – and I will be in his corner, hoping that it does – it should work for most other people.

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