Virender Sehwag‘s childhood coach AN Sharma has hailed the batsman’s “helping attitude” as the quality that best defined him. “Whether on the field or off it he would never say no to anyone asking for help,” Sharma told ESPNcricinfo.
“Whenever I needed things for the academy and asked him for them, he would immediately provide them. There were times players would get selected for the state and they wouldn’t even have kits. I would send them to Sehwag, and he would provide them with his bags,” he said.
Sharma recounted an incident where Sehwag gave away all his bats to the students of his academy. “He would often go to Meerut to pick bats for himself. On one particular occasion he brought back 14 bats,” Sharma said.
“I would usually select the bats for him. I told him I didn’t like any of the 14 he brought back. I knew none of those would suit him. He immediately distributed all the bats among the boys of the academy.”
Sharma, whose association with Sehwag began in 1993, said he warmed up to him as the batsman never tried to change his style of batting. “I would never discourage him from playing his shots. I never told him not to hit the ball. ‘If you are hitting it, hit hard.’ Whenever I taught him kitab waale [copybook] strokes, it would get difficult for him, so I wanted him to improve on his natural game,” he said.
Sharma narrated the story of a match he said served as a ping-off point for Sehwag’s reputation as a destructive batsman. “In January 1994, the Delhi school’s cricket team was playing in Indore. I was the coach then.
“The mentality [in such tournaments] is to have two tough sides play each other. At least one would be out of the way then. Delhi’s first match was against UP, who used to be a good side. UP had set us a target in the range of 250. I used to bat Viru in the middle order then. The first ball he faced from a very fine bowler from UP – I don’t remember his name now – he hit him for a six over point.”
Sharma said the bowler couldn’t bowl after that, and Sehwag “maar maar ke” [kept hitting] finished the match. “When I met the bowler later, he told me: “Sir, that was my best ball and he hit me for a six. I was very demoralised after that.” Nobody thought that Delhi would win this match against UP, because they had the best attack, and very good batsmen. Viru singlehandedly took the match away. He never looked back after this.”
Sharma said Delhi eventually went on to win the final that year, beating a strong Gujarat side. According to him, Syed Mushtaq Ali, who was to preside over the final, turned up a little late to the final, but Sehwag had already finished the game by then.
There was a time when I would only commute by bus, so I would get late. So Viru, once he sensed I was late, he would take the new ball and bowl
Sehwag, Sharma said, was also mischievous by nature, and would never shy away from cracking jokes or playing pranks. “Inki ek badmaashi thi [he had a mischievous trait]. There was a time when I would only commute by bus, so I would get late. So Viru, once he sensed I was late, he would take the new ball and bowl,” Sharma said.
“He used to tell the other boys to not let on about him taking the new ball. The boys also would remain silent and not tell me. He wasn’t the captain but would behave in a way.”
Sharma said, however, that having fun never detracted Sehwag from his ability to knuckle down and focus on the field. “The dedication that I saw in him I haven’t probably seen that in anybody. When he plays cricket, he is mentally, physically there.
“When I chided him once about getting out in a particular manner, he listened to it with intent and took it on board. He ensures that other players are also disciplined.”
Sharma said he went out of the way to ensure Sehwag never got into trouble when he was the sports instructor in the government school in Vikaspuri. “He would miss classes often because of cricket, and so some teachers wouldn’t like it. But, I was always behind him,” he said.
“Once when he was about to be caned by a teacher – that was a time when corporal punishment was allowed – I signalled from afar asking him to not hit him, as he was my favourite batsman.”
Sharma, who will turn 72 next month, said his relationship with Sehwag and his family had always remained warm. “We were just like family. Whenever his mother made something special, I would always be sent it.
“When he got married, there was the Milni ritual to be completed. His father said that Guru number one pe aayega [the teacher would be given first priority], and made sure I was at the forefront. That was a great honour.”
Sharma said that his mashoor [famous] pupil had made him mashoor as well. “Warna aap kyon call karte hain mujhe [otherwise why would you people call me]?.”
Arun Venugopal is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo
ESPN Sports Media Ltd.