Virender Sehwag’s triumphs need no assertion, especially in Test match cricket - his two splendid triple centuries (I was at the other end during his first triple century against Pakistan in Multan) and quite a few double hundreds endorse his allegiance to cricket’s purist format. Amidst a plethora of such consummate innings, stand out two that define his character - first, the 195 he scored at the MCG in 2003-04, and second, the innings of 151 runs that he played at Adelaide four years later against the same opposition.
Unfortunately though, four years since that stupendous innings, Sehwag hasn’t managed to hit a single century outside the sub-continent - something that saddens his fans, including me, to no limits. Has he got sucked into the reputation of batting the way ‘Sehwag is supposed to bat’? It isn’t that he’s batting poorly - the timing is still there and also the hunger (an ODI double century proves that). So what is it?
Sehwag is known to be an entertainer of very fine quality and when he gets going, he scores in double quick time and sets up the match perfectly for the bowlers. His knock invariably makes the opposition play the catching up game, for there’s always enough time for the Indian bowlers to take 20 wickets. He looks set to hit good balls for fours and forces the opposition to think out of the box, but sometimes even that proves futile. The opposition continues to employ unorthodox fields, yet Sehwag keeps finding the fence. All of this makes him a very special player, often invoking comparisons with Sir Vivian Richards, but there’s a lot more to his batting that intrigues me.
The shrewd tactician
While most people failed to see beyond his brilliant eye-hand co-ordination and his courage of conviction to back his style of play, I, as his batting partner, often marveled at the way his brain functioned. Lets face it, Sehwag rarely gets the credit for being a thinking batsman but believe you me, he’s one of the shrewdest batsmen I’ve ever come across. He knows how to play with the bowler’s mind and also how to control his instincts - his innings of 2003-04 & 2007-08 bear testimony to that.
In 2003, the track at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Boxing-Day match was quite damp and stroke making wasn’t the order of the day, at least in the first session. Sehwag was in good form and could have easily continued to play his natural game - which is to see the ball and hit the ball. But he chose to curb his instincts. He knew he couldn’t pull or hook - in fact he isn’t a very good leaver of the short ball too and hence decided to willfully take blows on his body and helmet. For a player with his ability to attack, it’s difficult to say no to a challenge, come what may. But Sehwag’s meticulous restrain during that innings told us that his game was more intense than just being purely instinctive.
His second best innings at Adelaide stands out simply for the patience he displayed even on a flat 4th/5th day track. He knew that he was coming out of a really bad patch and needed to bat a bit differently to both save India the blushes and resurrect his flailing career. He did that and fortunately hasn’t looked back since.
On Viru's agenda
The point is simple - Sehwag of 2003 & 2008 needs to resurface once again. In spite of batting like a millionaire, he needs to get back to being stingy.
Champions are known for what the champions do. Sehwag is a champion cricketer not only for his ability to bat but also for his astute knowledge of scoring runs under different and difficult circumstances. Perhaps, why one cannot accept him getting dismissed playing a risky shot when the situation demands caution. All great players have a few gears, which they shift depending on the demands. Sehwag is a genius and hence I’m expecting him to summon the attitude he showed in 2003 and 2008. If he could do it then, there’s no doubt that he can do it now too.