As ducks swim, Virender Sehwag timed the leather orb. Of the 17,253 international runs he scored, Sehwag’s innate ability to spank the cricket ball boiled down to precise hand-eye coordination. Bred on the grassless and matting pitches of northern India, Sehwag wasn’t to be restricted in the ‘V’, meticulously accreting runs like a Gavaskar. Flouting all grammar books, his first scoring shot would invariably screech through point or cover.
After officially mothballing his flannels in 2015, Sehwag’s retains that immaculate touch. He arrived well ahead of the scheduled appointment after inviting Outlook to his school in Jhajjar, about 35 km from Brigadier Hoshiarpur, on the way to Rohtak in Haryana. It’s here that Sehwag now lives his dreams—a second innings that revolves around children, including his sons Aryavir, 12, and nine-year-old Vedant. This time, though, the copybook beckons Sehwag: as mentor he will allow himself no false stroke.
The Virender Sehwag International School is a two-hour drive from Chattarpur in south Delhi, where he currently lives in a sprawling farmhouse. A smartly dressed Sehwag receives us at the school reception. The clock strikes 1:30 pm; he demonstrates a keen sense of timing: “Pehle khana, phir interview (First lunch, then interview),” he says.
“Cricket has given me everything…. Cricket continues to give me my bread and butter and it’s time to give back to society,” Sehwag says over a lavish vegetarian spread. During the hour-long conversation, one thing emerges—as in his batting so in life, Sehwag remains free from clutter. “As a cricketer I have been an entertainer…. Now I entertain with my opinion on TV or social media. People love to hear the truth. You can’t be politically correct all the time….”
Sehwag, who turned 41 on October 20, has seen his life change dramatically. “But I have never let pressure get the better of me. I don’t have to attend morning nets!” he chuckles. Nor is he a votary of the “early to bed, early to rise” dictum. “I must get my eight hours of sleep...that’s essential for a healthy mind,” says Sehwag. His day typically lasts 16 hours, and starts around 9 or 10 in the morning.
The fitness regimes of current sportspersons also confound Sehwag. “I find that batsmen and bowlers are all doing weights…because they have seen Virat Kohli doing it in Facebook or Twitter. The rate at which our young cricketers are getting injured is alarming,” says Sehwag, adding that Ganguly, Tendulkar, Laxman or Dravid barely got seriously injured. Sehwag’s ‘under-control’ waistline reflects his daily regime. “Warm water with honey gives me a sweet start to the day; then there is a good supply of vegetables and milk from my farm,” he says.
The idea of a residential school came from his father. “’If you become a successful cricketer, build a school where children can study, stay and play’—my dad’s message was clear. A lot of time goes to students at my academies and school. If one or two can make it to the IITs, become a famous doctor or play for India, I would have done some service,” says Sehwag.
Time, in a way, is running out on Sehwag and his wife for 15 years, Aarti. “Aryavir is going to be 13 next year…. We spend as much time as possible with our children. When I was travelling, I missed them a lot. A good day usually ends with Kaun Banega Crorepati or a movie together,” he says.
Extremely active on social media, Sehwag has over 20 million followers on Twitter and another 14.2 million on Facebook, but dreads his sons falling prey to the “evils” of the digital world. “Mobile phones only on Sundays and the kids must tell us what they are watching. Parental guidance is crucial….they must understand that being Virender Sehwag’s sons don’t give them any advantage in life and you shall be punished for any wrongdoing, especially towards women.”
Such earthily profound philosophy in the Sehwags perhaps stems from the cricketer’s rise from a large and joint Jat family who were grain merchants. The determination that drove him then still drives the man who commands a massive price for media assignments. “There is a price for my professional time. If you want Sehwag to speak his mind, you have to pay me,” he says matter-of-factly, also reminding us that he once did a dengue campaign for gratis for the Delhi government.
His sons remain the cynosure of his eyes. “I don’t want to see another Virender Sehwag in them. They can become a Kohli or a Pandya or a Dhoni. But they don’t have to cricketers. They are free to choose their careers… the bottomline is to become good human beings. That’s non-negotiable.”
Sehwag is enjoying life after cricket—a life dedicated to the welfare of children at home and at his academy. “I don’t love people hounding me for photos and autographs. I have had my time under the sun and enjoyed it. They say that after death people remember you very little. So I am living my life every day. With Generation Next.”