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Is Virender Sehwag a great Indian batsman?
by Suresh Menon
Apr 02, 2008
How many Indian batsmen can you call ‘great’? And what are the criteria? You can answer the first question through the second or the other way around. The answer would still be deeply unsatisfactory. You can break it down to: record, ability to dominate, Atlas-like power to carry the team on the shoulders, longevity, ability to turn a match with one magical innings, the habit of stringing together such magical innings…. and you would still grope for that ‘X’ factor, the elusive quality that makes for greatness.

“A really great batsman,” wrote C L R James in an essay on George Headley, “is to me as strange a human being as a man seven feet tall, or a man I once heard of who could not read but spoke six languages.” Great batsmen are rare. The media’s habit of using that label indiscriminately springs as much from laziness as from a lack of understanding.

Merely good batsmen can play great innings - Derek Randall, in the Centenary Test when he made 174. So too the very good who can play a country’s defining innings, like V V S Laxman did when he made 281 in the Kolkata Test against Australia - but the great batsman seems to inhabit another planet altogether.

Greatness transcends time and place - you cannot be temporarily great, and then be displaced by someone a generation or two later. You could have all the right statistics - Steve Waugh is a good example - and yet fall short of greatness. Sometimes you fall short because there aren’t enough statistics to support your case - like Barry Richards, who played just four Tests.

Yet, there are undisputed greats. Gary Sobers, Don Bradman, Shane Warne. They had the record, the consistency, and all those things we spoke about earlier. If you have to ask yourself if a player deserves to be in that company, then the answer usually is that he doesn’t. If greatness is natural, so is its acknowledgement.

So who are the great Indian batsmen? The obvious names are Vijay Hazare, Sunil Gavaskar, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid. A case can be made for Vijay Merchant and C K Nayudu. Half a dozen ‘greats’ in just over 75 years of Test cricket sounds about right.

What of Sehwag, then? He will be 30 this year, and has, in some ways re-written the grammar of batsmanship. He is, as Dravid has pointed out, a 360 degrees batsman, with shots all round the wicket. He has shown that he can be both destroyer as well as preserver; playing the latter role most recently while making 151 at Adelaide. Despite this, if there is a hesitation to place him alongside the Gavaskars and Tendulkars, the reason is that one often has to use the term ‘on his day’ to qualify his big efforts. On his day he can destroy any bowling in the world, on his day he can win a match off his own bat, on his day he can turn a series.

The truly great batsmen cannot afford that luxury. They have to be great day in and day out. When W G Grace was asked about the greatness of the young Don Bradman, he famously remarked, “Ah! Give me Arthur,” referring to Arthur Shrewsbury, the less flamboyant batsman, and the first man to make one thousand runs in Test cricket. Of Sehwag one can almost hear the Old Man say, "Ah! Give me Rahul."
 
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