Trust Virender Sehwag to entertain whatever the stage. At an event marked to launch the book, Pitchside, written by former India team manager and senior Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) Amrit Mathur, Sehwag consigned everything including the very eloquent Shashi Tharoor to the background, so much so that after his speech, the celebrated diplomat and politician sat as a mere spectator instead of a chief guest as the audience was riveted to the former India batting star at the India International Centre.
Sehwag played on the front foot on Wednesday night. Consider this: He was asked by host Joy Bhattacharjya, also a former Kolkata Knight Riders official, about his first experience with the author Mathur.
“When [politician and BCCI vice president] Rajiv Shukla joined us as team manager in 2002 (when Sehwag was starting for India), and Amrit Mathur was our media manager, my instant reaction was that this is a Chacha Chaudhary-Sabu (Hindi comic characters) combination, with [the short, portly] Shukla being Chacha Chaudhary who couldn’t do things on his own but needed Sabu (Mathur) to help him,” he said.
Shukla was in the audience and sheepish. He took it sportingly, so did Mathur.
Sehwag was also asked about the 2002 Natwest Trophy final, which finds a big narration in Pitchside, and Sourav Ganguly taking off his shirt after the win.
“We tried to stop his from taking off his shirt at the [venerated] Lord’s balcony [after the Natwest Trophy final win] but he was looking for opportunities for brand endorsements for vests. He was thinking some company might come his way,” he said.
That wasn’t enough. When Mohammad Kaif narrated that when he went into bat with India staring down the barrel at 146/5 while chasing 325 set by Nasser Hussain’s England, he didn’t have much faith that he will be able to take India home.
“Your teammates also did not [have faith in you],” butted in Sehwag leaving the audience in raptures. Sehwag was part of that team and was dismissed early. Kaif though went on to score 87 not out to take India to a famous win and earn Man of the Match award. So, it all went well and Kaif had a good laugh too.
Sehwag then recalled the infamous IPL after-parties which included cheerleaders, glitterati besides cricketers. These were held through the night immediately after the match and were criticised to pushing cricketers to exhaustion and turning cricket into masala. These were banned post Lodha reforms.
“In Delhi, the biggest demand was not for IPL match tickets or passes but for passes for IPL after-parties. We were often asked for these. In Delhi, people anyway manage to lay their hands on free match tickets somehow,” the former Delhi star said before recalling a famous incident where the then Delhi Daredevils’ coach Greg Shippard caught the team members breaking team curfew and chastised them.
Asked if he had any regrets of not getting a third Test triple century – he was dismissed for 293 against Sri Lanka at Mumbai’s Brabourne Stadium in 2009, Sehwag said, “I never thought of getting to any target.”
Sehwag had gone to stumps on Day 2 at 284 not out.
“If I had to think of any target next day, it would have been Brian Lara’s Test record of 400. If 300 was the target, I would have completed it on the second day [when he scored 284] itself instead of allowing Rahul Dravid waste three maiden overs,” he said. Dravid was known to play within himself and his batting was antithetical to Sehwag’s.
The event also saw points from the books being discussed. The book highlights the growth of Indian cricket through the 1990s till now, with international tournaments that helped India gain stature and IPL getting significant mention.
Mathur, the author, paid tribute to former India captain Mansoor Ali Khan Pataudi and BCCI chief Jagmohan Dalmiya, both dead now.
Tharoor too mentioned an incident when he wrote off Sunil Gavaskar as India’s worst ever captain in the 1980s in a magazine article before mentioning the embarrassment he had to face when he met the ex-India captain later in life.
Among the others present were Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, whose father Madhavrao brought author Mathur into BCCI fold, and former India cricketers.