April 03, 2008

Virender Sehwag - Licence To Kill

By H Natarajan

During India’s tour of England, a journalist friend asked Virender Sehwag if he had a look at the pitch that the team was to play on the morrow.

Sehwag’s terse reply was “no”.

Asked why, Sehwag’s reply was nonchalant, “Kya faida?” (What’s the point?)

Now that’s Sehwag - earthy, honest and uncomplicated. For him a pitch is a pitch, green or brown, bouncy or flat, home or abroad. He does not like to get unduly perturbed. He will bat in the manner he knows best on any pitch and against any bowler. His philosophy is: Have bat, will bat. And in a manner that is outrageous, be it Shoaib Akhtar, Muttiah Muralitharan or any bowler down the lane in Najafgarh. He will shock the purists by saying footwork is not necessary for batting and will then shock everyone as well by doing exactly what he believes in – and with astounding success.

The Sehwag School of batsmanship is good for admiring but fraught with heightened risks when attempted by lesser mortals. Maybe they purists should demand for statutory warning at grounds when the Delhi dasher plays. It could read: “Pyrotechnics that you see (from Sehwag) require a high degree of skill and expertise. Please do not attempt it.”

Sehwag has not got his rightful due in a Indian batting line-up that has proven world class performers like Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. As a Test match barman, Sehwag is not merely world class but has earned the right to rank among the best in the history of the game. Sweeping statement? Certainly not. Let’s see why.

There are only three batsmen in 131 years of Test cricket who have scored two triple centuries – Sir Don Bradman, Brian Lara and Sehwag. But the Indian is the only opener among the troika to achieve the feat and the only batsman to score against different oppositions. He is also the only player to achieve that feat at home and away.

But what speaks more eloquently about his stature as one of the most destructive batsmen of all-time is his ability to get huge hundreds and get them consistently at a blistering pace. He has shattered age-old beliefs of how batting in Test match is to be approached.

The last ten of Sehwag’s 14 Test hundreds have been 150-plus knocks, including two triple hundreds, two double and two-near double hundreds. The staggering sequence reads: 195, 309, 155, 164, 173, 201, 254, 180, 151 and 319. The triple century at Chennai under hot, humid and energy-sapping condition was the fastest-ever in Test cricket – off just 278 balls, 84 balls quicker than Matthew Hayden who held the earlier record. And it should not be forgotten that Sehwag’s knock came against quality bowlers of and a strong cricketing nation.

Sehwag has also to his credit the second fastest, third fastest and the seventh fastest double hundreds – compelling stats of sustained brilliance and belligerence. And in sharp contrast to most players, who eschew risks to get to hundreds and double hundreds, Sehwag’s warrior-like approach makes him go for shots that will fetch him the maximum. He has adopted those methods – and succeeded – even in going for his triple century.

Only Sir Don Bradman (twice), Wally Hammond and Denis Compton have scored more runs in a single day’s play. The list of top ten in this category finds Sir Don’s name thrice and Sehwag twice. The likes of Matthew Hayden, Sanath Jayasuriya, Herschelle Gibbs, to name a few, exemplify the breed of modern openers whose approach is vastly different from the conventional methods, yet none of these heavyweights have been able to sustain their fire to score even 200 in a day. Sehwag, on the other hand, scored 257 runs on Day Three at Chennai - the most runs scored in Tests played in the last 54 years.

Sehwag’s stroke production is of a very high order and his ability to find the boundary or go over it to even good deliveries have left bowlers all around the world quite exasperated. The propensity to hit fours and sixes with consummate ease has found his name thrice in the top eight Test knocks where most runs came from fours and sixes in an in a Test innings. And it’s this approach that has given him a strike-rate of 75-plus in Tests and 96-plus in ODIs – incredible figures for a top order batsman.

For a man who plays Test match cricket like a one-day match, his figures in ODIs are paradoxically more mortal in comparison, though there are innings which have been typically Sehwag-like. Like against New Zealand in 2001 when he hit completed his hundred off 69 balls—the second-fastest century by an Indian in history.

One of the signs of a champion player is his ability to score big against top class teams and/or against quality bowlers. Sehwag emerges a big winner on this parameter as well with an average of 91.14 against Pakistan, 63.00 against South Africa, 53.90 against Australia and 53.58 against the West Indies.

Sehwag has brought not only brought abundance at the top but also has provided solidity as well combining and inspiring a number of opening partners. He, in partnership with Dravid, came within a boundary hit short of erasing the then Test opening record of 413 between Pankaj Roy and Vinoo Mankad. That was in Pakistan two years back. He also has double century stands for the opening wicket with Sanjay Bangar, Gautam Gambhir and Wasim Jaffer. Even the great Sunil Gavaskar, who association with Chetan Chauhan was one of the most successful in Test history, has only figured in two double century stands for the first wicket.

Sehwag’s methodology and genius reminds me of what Miami centre Rony Seikaly said after Michael Jordan had once bulldozed his way scoring 56 points for the Bulls. Seikaly eulogized: “Michael’s like a grenade without the pin...he could score whatever number he wants. He could score 100 points if he wants to”. In many ways, the genius of Sehwag is exactly like that – a grenade without the pin capable of creating havoc.

Did I hear anybody saying Test cricket is boring?!

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