Exactly 12 years ago, on March 29, 2004, Virender Sehwag scored the first ever triple century (309) in Test match cricket for India in Multan -- a feat he went on to repeat four years later.
Till today, the 12th anniversary of the seminal achievement by the swashbuckling ‘Delhi Bomber’, no other Indian, Sachin Tendulkar included, has not been able to emulate him. Sehwag broke the highest Indian Test knock of 281, scored by VVS Laxman, and in 2008 hammered another triple century, 319 against South Africa in Chennai.
In 12 intervening years, Sehwag’s form went through many ups and downs, and he eventually retired on his birthday, on October 20, 2015. This is the first anniversary of his triple century after his retirement. And he has already made a smooth transition to television commentary, like a fish to water – and uninhibited, and not afraid of expressing himself, much like his batting.
“He plays the way he speaks – straightforward. Whenever he had bat in his hand, he never allowed the opponents to dominate,” Amar Nath Sharma, Sehwag’s childhood coach, told Outlook.
Has Sehwag changed as man in the 12 years, since scoring his triple century?
“His relationship with me has been same till date. To cite an example, a few days before the ICC World Twenty20 began on March 8, he came to his Vikaspuri school [where Sharma coaches] and stayed there for close to three hours. He said he just wanted to meet me since we hadn’t met for a long time,” said Sharma.
Irfan Pathan, who was playing only his third Test in Multan, remembers the “unbelievable” experience of watching an Indian score a triple century in Test match cricket.
“It was some experience for me. Generally, batsmen respect good deliveries; but he would hit all of them. Some of the shots he played in that innings were unbelievable. It was a very, very special innings. He became very popular for his fearless batting,” Pathan told Outlook. “For a young guy like me, then 20 years old, to watch that kind of innings early in my career was amazing.”
Now, in the ongoing ICC World Twenty20, Sehwag is sharing the mike with Shoaib Akhtar, who was part of the five-man bowling attack in that first Test of the three-match series and against whom he scored 62 of those 309 runs. Twelve years ago, Shewag and Shaoib had on-ground skirmishes during the course of the triple century in hot conditions in Multan. But, now, both have hit off immediately and famously, cracking jokes, and pulling each other’s leg in front of the mike.
After announcing his retirement from all cricket last year, Sehwag played a couple of series for retired players in the US and the UAE.
Incidentally, former Pakistani off-spinner Saqlain Mushtaq, who he hit for a six to bring up his triple hundred in Multan, was part of his team in the Masters Champions League, played in the UAE. March 20, 2004, was a memorable day for Sehwag, the Indian team, millions of India fans, and particularly for this correspondent. Just a few hours after Sehwag completed his historic triple, we had a quiet dinner in his hotel room.
After Sehwag finished the first day of the Test on 228 not out, we had decided that we would have a meal the next day, without either of us having any inkling that it would turn out to be a historic one.
When I reached the hotel room in the evening, I was a bit surprised to find no celebrations. Sehwag himself was absolutely normal and grounded. When I asked him about the silence in and around his room, he said the team had told him that they would organise a grand celebration for him on the team’s return to India. In Pakistan, the team had ordered a cake for Sehwag, recalls Pathan. In his room, Sehwag showed me congratulatory letters/faxes he had received from BCCI president Jagmohan Dalmiya, team sponsors Sahara, and a bouquet and two bottles of champagne sent by Hero Honda owner Pawan Munjal.
Before we had a vegetarian meal in his room, Sehwag had a massage. I noticed that ‘Viru’ was completely normal; there was no unusual emotions of having become the first Indian to score a triple Test ton. He is anyway not given to show his emotions.
I have a few other reasons to cherish the memories from that tour, especially vis-à-vis Sehwag. After the Multan Test, Sehwag presented me with a signed shirt he wore while scoring 309.
We had another dinner in his hotel room later on that tour. This time, Sehwag sprung a surprise on me by disclosing that he would be getting married, to Aarti, after that Pakistan trip.
It was a ‘breaking news’, a big scoop for a journalist, but since it was a very personal thing and confidential, I obviously did not write that story.
Sehwag had called me to help him prepare a list of the players he had played with and against in various Indian domestic tournaments. He also showed me a bunch of his wedding cards that he had got couriered to him in Pakistan, possibly to invite Pakistani players and his other friends in that country.
He also presented a card to me then and there. Interestingly, my name written in his handwriting posed a bit of delay for me and my family in getting inside the hall of a five-star hotel in Delhi as my name was not there in the two lists. All the guests’ invitation cards were being tallied with the names printed on the lists prepared by bride’s family and the bridegroom’s. And mine was in neither as Sehwag had forgotten to get it included in his list. Finally, the man checking the cards was convinced that the card and the bearer were genuine, and allowed us in.
Later on that tour, Sehwag in an interview told me that he was trying to settle himself in the Indian team in that series, having made a sensational Test debut in 2001, against South Africa in Bloemfontein.
“I went there [to Pakistan] with a blank mind. I only thought of playing well and performing. I was thinking that when I have performed well on the hard and bouncy tracks of Australia, maybe it would be slightly easy in Pakistan,” he said.