India in Australia 2011-12 January 17, 2012

Undone by pace and swing

Over the last four years, Sehwag has been the most successful Test batsman in Asia, but outside the subcontinent his stats have plummeted

One of the tweets doing the rounds towards the end of the first day's play in Perth said this (or words to this effect): 'Finally saw a Sehwag innings. Only, it came from Warner.' The comment captured how destructive David Warner had been in the last session on that day, when he scored 104 from 80 balls, but it also showed up Sehwag's failure to play the sort of innings that has defined his batsmanship.

When he first burst onto the international scene, Sehwag was thought to be someone who'd be utterly destructive in good batting conditions, but would struggle on juicier pitches abroad. As soon as he got an opportunity, he went about busting that notion. A stunning debut hundred in Bloemfontein was followed by hundreds at Trent Bridge, Melbourne, and Adelaide, plus other emphatic performances outside the subcontinent.

Since scoring that game-saving century in Adelaide in January 2008, though, his ability to dominate and score runs in conditions conducive to seam, swing and bounce seems to have diminished considerably. You wouldn't know that looking at his overall numbers, for those haven't changed much at all: his career average till January 2008 was 50.46; since then, it's 51.50, in 41 Tests. There's some difference in his strike rate - 74.89 to 92.04 - and in his conversion rate of fifties into hundreds - 50% to 33% - but the average is as strong as ever.

However, look at the details and more significant differences emerge. Since that 151 in Adelaide, Sehwag's stocks outside the subcontinent have fallen: in each of the last tours to New Zealand, South Africa, England and Australia, Sehwag's average hasn't touched 30 - it was 28 in New Zealand, 24 in South Africa, 10.25 in England and 19.67 so far in Australia. That's 21 innings in which he has managed only two fifties, and a highest score of 67.

What's kept his overall average at the same heights of old are his stats in the subcontinent: his average of 64.28 in Asia compensates for his lean spell overseas. In 11 series in Asia during this period, he has averaged 49 or more in eight of them, and 65-plus in six. He has notched up scores of 319, 293 and 201 not out, plus six more hundreds in 53 innings. That's in stark contrast to no score of more than 70 in 21 innings abroad.

The strike-rate stats are interesting too. Before February 2008 Sehwag was already scoring pretty quickly, with a Test match strike rate touching 75, but since then, it's rocketed up to 92 runs per 100 balls. His attacking instincts have worked well in the subcontinent, when he has been more dominant than ever - no one has scored more runs in Asia during this period - but not in conditions that have aided the quick bowlers.

Two phases of Sehwag's Test career
Period Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
2001 to Jan 2008 54 4441 50.46 74.89 13/ 13
Feb 2008 onwards 41 3657 51.50 92.04 9/ 18
Career 95 8098 50.93 81.77 22/ 31
Sehwag in and outside Asia in these two periods
Period Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Till Jan 2008 - in Asia 30 2634 57.26 74.93 8/ 8
Feb 2008 onwards - in Asia 30 3214 64.28 95.03 9/ 16
Till Jan 2008 - outside Asia 24 1807 43.02 74.82 5/ 5
Feb 2008 onwards - outside Asia 11 443 21.09 74.95 0/ 2

Against the quick bowlers, Sehwag's numbers have fallen significantly outside the subcontinent in the last four years. Till January 2008, he'd averaged 46 against them, but since then, it has fallen to 25, with 16 of his 21 dismissals coming against them. The lack of runs hasn't affected the strike rate, though.

Sehwag against fast bowlers outside the subcontinent*
Period Runs Dismissals Average Runs per over
Till Jan 2008 1426 31 46.00 4.25
Feb 2008 onwards 401 16 25.06 4.35
* Excludes matches played in Zimbabwe

The bowlers who've done well against him have all been those whose primary weapon, apart from pace, is swing. In the ongoing series in Australia, not only has Ben Hilfenhaus dismissed Sehwag three times, he has also kept him on a tight leash, conceding only 33 runs from 88 deliveries. Dale Steyn got him three times too in the series in 2010-11. (Overall, Sehwag averages 51.67 against Steyn in Tests in India, and 13.25 in Tests in South Africa.)

On the tour to England last year, Sehwag tried to dominate James Anderson right from the start, but there's no question about who won that battle: though Sehwag scored 22 runs in 13 balls, he was also dismissed by him twice.

On the other hand, against Morne Morkel, a bowler who mostly bowls back of a length and hits the deck hard, Sehwag scored 47 from 53 balls, and was dismissed just once.

Fast bowlers v Sehwag in Tests outside subcontinent since Feb 2008
Bowler Runs Balls Dismissals Average Runs per over
Ben Hilfenhaus 33 88 3 11.00 2.25
Dale Steyn 49 91 3 16.33 3.23
James Anderson 22 13 2 11.00 10.15
James Pattinson 36 56 2 18.00 3.85

One of the criticisms about Sehwag recently has been that he tends to play too many extravagant strokes early in his innings, which become low percentage in conditions aiding seam and swing. As argued in this piece, in some of his big innings outside the subcontinent earlier, his first few runs came at a relatively slow rate. However, a comparison of his numbers in the first 15 overs during these two periods show that the strike rates aren't too different. What it does show, though, is that Sehwag is scoring about 10% faster despite being in poorer form now.

Sehwag in the first 15 overs of an innings, in Tests outside subcontinent*
Period Runs Balls Dismissals Average Runs per over
Till Jan 2008 743 1005 19 39.10 4.43
Feb 2008 onwards 392 491 15 26.13 4.79
* Excludes matches played in Zimbabwe

After the three defeats in Australia, there's been plenty of clamour over who should be dropped for the Adelaide Test and further into the future. Looking at the stats of India's batsmen outside the subcontinent in the last four years, Sehwag's numbers don't look pretty. On average, he has faced 28 balls per dismissal during this period, which is a ball less than the corresponding average for Harbhajan Singh. In terms of averages, Sehwag's is worse than MS Dhoni and even Suresh Raina.

The last time Sehwag played a Test in Adelaide, though, he batted for almost six hours and scored 151, which remains his only second-innings century in Test cricket. An encore in 2012 won't save the series, but it'll surely end the overseas rut that Sehwag has got into.

Indian batsmen outside subcontinent since Feb 2008 (Excl Zimbabwe)
Batsman Tests Runs Average Strike rate 100s/ 50s
Sachin Tendulkar 13 1192 51.82 53.98 3/ 6
Rahul Dravid 16 1314 46.92 40.30 4/ 6
Gautam Gambhir 11 933 44.42 43.41 2/ 5
VVS Laxman 16 1018 36.35 48.61 1/ 9
MS Dhoni 15 753 31.37 57.56 0/ 7
Suresh Raina 8 343 22.86 49.56 0/ 4
Virender Sehwag 11 443 21.09 74.95 0/ 2
Harbhajan Singh 11 343 20.17 69.85 0/ 2

S Rajesh is stats editor of ESPNcricinfo. Follow him on Twitter