This post is overdue. Not just overdue, it’s very late. Still it’s not as late as you played your favourite cut shot, leaning away to slash the ball over the waiting slips.
To be honest, it’s taken me time to finally come to terms with the fact that you will no longer play competitive cricket – no test matches, no ODIs, not even the IPL. That you will no longer essay any further classics. That I will just have to make do with old memories on YouTube.
Let me try to describe the thrill of watching you bat.
When Ganguly came out to bat, I knew there would be a silky cover drive. With Dravid, I knew that his forward prod would be technically correct. With Sachin…well…I knew that the ball was going to hit the middle of the bat.
But when you came out to bat the only thing I knew you would do is smile. My expectations would oscillate wildly between a scintillating hundred and a first ball duck. While approaching milestones, batsmen (including your mentor Sachin) at the other end told you to take singles and play calmly. You would listen to your them, take your stance and then hit try and hit the next ball for six. All with that impish smile on your face.
So what if you were the only batsman to get out in the 90s, 190s and 290s? You were also the first man in the history of test cricket to get to 100, 200 and 300 with a six (Multan).
You had no fear of failure and that is what made you special, Viru. You played cricket like it was Russian roulette and the Gods returned your smile.
Being a massive fan of yours, I took a lot of flack. Sometimes I would squirm uncomfortably and sometimes I would walk around like a don. That’s what it was like to support you – either your fans were flying high or lying low. There was no middle ground. Every single match someone would pass a comment about 1) how useless you are 2) how you only play well only once in ten games or 3) how you don’t deserve your place in the team.
We just let the stats talk for themselves.
Test match hundred on debut. Highest test scorer for India. Fastest triple centurion. Double centurion in one day matches. Highest number of test runs in a day.
Apart from your batting records, you were a reliable slip fielder and more than useful off-spinner.
You were a true match-winner for India. To quote the immortal words from Andaz Apna Apna- Viru, aap toh purush hi nahin….mahapurush ho, mahapurush!
We loved your see-ball, hit-ball philosophy. You could tell Shoaib Akhtar, the fastest bowler in world, to shut his trap and that “baap baap hota hai aur beta beta hota hai”. You sang old Hindi songs in the middle while batting. It was your comments like “main kareeb do sau par batting kar raha tha (I was batting on about 200)”,“there is no such thing as a good ball when I am batting – all are bad balls” and “Bangladesh can’t take 20 wickets” that made us love you. You didn’t care who was bowling, who was fielding, who was at the other end – you just backed yourself and went for it no matter what the situation was.
My favorite memory of yours is actually from the 2003 World Cup Final. Tendulkar was out in the first over itself and chasing 360 to was next to impossible. India lost, but it was your innings that gave me a sneak peek into the next ten years of Indian cricket. At 103 -3 the rain came down and players had to go off the field. Ricky Ponting brought the spinners on get through overs quickly to make sure the match met the minimum 25 over requirement under the D/L rules. Poor Ricky’s plan backfired. You tore into Lehmann and Hogg and Mcgrath was given the ball. Ponting had to call upon his best bowler to stop the runs because suddenly you had caught up with the D/L score!
Year after year, I have named my IPL fantasy team after you – Tu mera Viru (sung to the tune of “Tu mera Hero” from the Desi Boys song Subah Hone Na De). The joke was if Kings XI Punjab were playing an IPL game, everyone knew whom I would trump/captain in my fantasy team. Next year, Tu mera Viru will enter the “Sehwag for Prez” IPL fantasy league again!
Viru, you changed the way I watched cricket. While other batsman sought records and technical perfection, you smiled and tore up attacks. Most of all, you were loved for all your flaws.
Thank you for all the memories. You will be missed.