Playing at home motivates me: Virender Sehwag

(World Cup Countdown)

By Pragya Tiwari, IANS,

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New Delhi : Swashbuckling batsman Virender Sehwag says playing to “pumped up” home crowds in packed stadiums “motivates me” as he prepares for the coming World Cup like he does for all matches – by creating a “virtual stadium in my mind”.

“There is no pressure playing in packed stadiums at home, they motivate me to perform better. Wherever we play in India, the crowds are so pumped up, shouting ‘Veeru, Veeru and Sachin, Sachin,’ and that’s encouraging,” Sehwag told IANS in an interview.

Sehwag doesn’t want to think of what happened when India played in the 1987 and 1996 World Cups in the subcontinent when they wilted under the enormous expectations and crashed out in the semi-finals.

“What happened in the previous World Cups is passe. Yes, Indians are passionate about the game, but that can’t put pressure on you. Do we feel pressure while spending time with our family? I am eagerly looking forward to playing at home.”

The 32-year old explosive opener has recovered from his shoulder injury that forced him out of the ODI series in South Africa last month and is raring to go. The World Cup will be held from Feb 19 to April 2.

Sehwag makes light of the injuries to Gautam Gambhir (hand), Sachin Tendulkar (hamstring) and himself. He insists that all is well in the Indian camp.

“I don’t think the injuries will affect our chances. We are lucky that all our injured batsmen are fit a month before the World Cup as batting is our strength.

“As for my shoulder, it is much better and I am training hard. My holiday is over,” he says with a chuckle.

Once dubbed a carefree batsman, the irrepressible opener today is more calculative and yet devastating, a real game-changer. He feels he has matured a lot both as a person and player after marriage to childhoood sweetheart Aarti.

Even when he was going through one of his worst patches of form before the 2007 World Cup, everyone knew he was one big innings away from regaining his touch.

“I have been playing for over a decade and I have matured considerably as a player. I am more selective in my shotmaking now. If the ball is bad is in my zone, I’ll go for it, if it is good I’ll treat it with respect.

“Also, after playing for five-six years you know your role in the team. I am lucky that I have the backing of my coach and captain to bat the way I do,” he said.

Sehwag attributes his attacking instincts to his early days.

“I was a middle-order batsman and I would hardly get to play three overs and there was no choice but to go after the bowling in search of quick runs. That’s how the aggressive streak got into my batting.

“Now I bat at the top and I know there are 10 others to follow. That cushion allows me to play my natural game,” said Sehwag who still visits his school coach A. N. Sharma for guidance.

“It’s not that I do not suit my batting to the requirements of the team or the situations. For instance, in Dambulla, I was the only batsman to score a hundred and 99 when wickets were falling around me and I paced the innings without losing focus.

“People seem to like my approach. Even if I spend 10 minutes at the nets, I do it with all seriousness as if I am playing a match. I would like to bat like the way I did when I was 19, but at the same time I am more responsible and consistent today.”

Sehwag, who has cracked 22 Test and 13 ODI centuries, says he prepares for a match by watching the videos of the opposition attack.

“I create a virtual stadium in my mind, imagining various bowlers. I also pick my bowlers to tonk all over the park and the ones I need to be cautious against.

The New Zealand series at home, Sehwag says, was India’s best preparation for the World Cup.

“That series gave us a very good player in Yusuf Pathan. I really like his batting style and I am a big fan of his. His 100 off 68 balls against South Africa was one of the best ODI innings I can think of. People said he can’t play fast bowling, but he proved everyone wrong by scoring a century against a quality pace attack.”

He turns a bit coy when you tell him that he is Yusuf’s inspiration.

“When I was young, I was inspired by Tendulkar. It feels nice if someone says he is inspired by me.”