Lessons from Virender Sehwag’s Career

Virender Sehwag announced his retirement from international cricket a few days ago.  His announcement had a memorable line:  “I also want to thank everyone for all the cricketing advice given to me over the years and apologize for not accepting most of it! I had a reason for not following it: I did it my way!” Although that sounds romantic and perhaps inspirational, even cricket non-followers knew that Sehwag retired a sad man. A look at some lessons from his career which was largely defined by his attitude.

I have no idea whether these lessons can be related to personal finance or not. I do not wish to create contrived analogies.  Do feel free to share your thoughts on Sehwag’s career in comments section.

Sehwag  had neither played a test or one-day for close to three years. So this was not a exactly a voluntary retirement.

Sehwag was a brilliant cricketer. When he started his career, I was still following the game. During his first few tests, I thought to myself, ‘this guy is a one-day player, and will not last in test cricket’. How wrong I was!

Along with Don Bradman (who is, by sheer statistics, the greatest batsman ever), Chris Gayle and Brian Lara, Sehwag is among the four players who have surpassed 300 runs in an innings twice! What a feat that is!

He went on to play 104 tests, score 8500+ runs with 23 centuries. A glittering career indeed, when you look at it now. However, Sehwag’s brilliance came from his hand-eye-feet co-ordination. Ian Chappell described his strategy beautifully, “see ball, hit ball”.

Sometimes that strategy worked magnificently, sometimes to good effect, but many times to disastrous effect. Sehwag knew to play only one way. Rain or shine, swing or spin, 1st inning or the second, he always tried to send the ball to the rope or over it.

When he got going, it was great entertainment, when he did not, it was despair for the fans and teammates.  Cricket is a team sport, whether played over 5 days, 7 hours or 3.5 hours. Sehwag may have been a team man, but was he a team player? His second innings record in test cricket was abysmal. More than 75% of the runs he scored in test cricket came from the first innings.  He was not a dependable opener. He was an entertaining one.

The nature of Cricket is such that, even in a 20 over game, such entertainment does not guarantee victory.

I guess Sehwag was simply incapable of doing what Tendulkar did to prolong his career: cut down the flashy strokes and graft, waiting for the bad ball to hit.Perhaps he tried and failed. Perhaps he was cut enough slack by the board to get back into form, perhaps not. Hard for outsiders to judge.

In hindsight, we can look back at his career fondly and nod in appreciation at, “I did it my way”, but it was as frustrating as it was brilliant to watch him play.

So here are the lessons I learnt from Sehwag’s career:

The ability to adapt is perhaps not mandatory for the gifted

Sehwag was gifted with genius which he honed to the extent that he could. Tendulkar was gifted with both genius and the ability to adapt, which he honed extremely well.

Easy to say everyone must try to adapt to stay on top. Sehwag taught me that not every one could. 

Sehwag could get away with it because he had genius on his side.  What about those who don’t?

The ability to adapt is mandatory for everyone else

Each day, I teach a group of students interested in physics and have learnt it ‘their way’ all their lives. This typically means, they love physics but not enough to be industrious about it.

When they sit in a Masters course, they have pretty much only one choice in life, take up physics as a career. When they realize what that entails (long hours of toil), only a few push themselves to adapt to the new system.

Those who learn to adapt, take their time to do well, but are finishers. Those who can’t, are stuck in a vocation that they once thought was right for them. A terrible spot to be in.

Perhaps this is true for all careers and disciplines: students, interns, financial advisors, teachers, researchers, analysts and so on.

Those who learn to adapt well, can also claim, ‘they did it their way’ too.

What do you think?

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