March 28, 2009

India in New Zealand, 2008-09

Why spinners can make Sehwag look silly

Sambit Bal
Team-mates rush in to congratulate Jeetan Patel on picking up Virender Sehwag's wicket, New Zealand v India, 2nd Test, Napier, 3rd day, March 28, 2009
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Something happens to Virender Sehwag when he sights a spinner. Despite all his adventurism, Sehwag's batting is usually based on clear and sound principles. He tries to send as many balls as possible to the boundary, but against pace bowlers, his shots are determined by the type of ball. Of late, he has taken to fetching balls from outside the off stump and hitting them between midwicket and mid-on, but by and large, he knows his percentages. It might appear risky to those watching, but in his mind, he has dealt with the ball on merit.

Not so against the spinners, or at least the spinners he doesn't rate. I once asked John Wright, then the India coach, if he worried about Sehwag's technique, particularly his lack of feet movement, against the new ball. Wright said he never worried about the new ball, but was terrified when spinners came on to bowl. It was then that he was most likely to get himself out. That's because "Viru doesn't think spinners have a right to exist."

Perhaps Wright has passed on a tip or two to Daniel Vettori.

In two consecutive innings now, Vettori has brought on spin early, and Sehwag has managed to get himself out in the very first over. Six and out against Vettori in the first innings, four and out against Jeetan Patel in the second, trying to manufacture shots on both occasions.

Sehwag is among the most unbelievable batsman of his time, and the most frustrating too. He was the first on Andy Zaltzman's Unpredictable XI yesterday. But against fast bowlers, his self-created dismissals - caught in slips chasing a wide ball, caught at point or covers trying to smash one on the up, a chopped one onto the stumps - are far more acceptable. On each of these occasions, his mind has processed the available information, and he has executed a stroke that he thinks the ball deserves.

But against most spinners, his mind has already been made up about where the ball will go. I thought Vettori played it brilliantly in the first innings. Many would have thought he was being cowardly by posting a long-off when he had more than 600 runs in the bank, but he was inviting Sehwag to hit against the spin over mid-on. Sehwag tapped a single off the first ball he faced, but back on strike on the fifth, he bent his knees and launched the ball with a vicious swing of the arm over long-on. Vettori didn't move the long-off across; he merely held the ball back a fraction and threw it wider. Sehwag repeated the stroke, and ended up edging it two feet outside the off stump.

It was a case of the both the batsman and bowler knowing what the next stroke would be before the ball was delivered. The bowler came out looking smarter.

With Patel, he wasn't even prepared to confer the bowler of one ball of watchfulness. The bat was already above the shoulder when Patel's arm came down, and ball somehow ended up at backward square leg, all along the ground. Out came the slog-sweep again, but the next ball was nowhere near the sweeping length, and it was flatter and faster. Sehwag looked aggrieved for he thought the impact was outside the off-stump: it might have been if you split hair, but so hideous was the stroke that the batsman deserved to be sent on his way.

Not that Sehwag is a sucker for every tweaker. Far from it, in fact. He has destroyed many reputations. In Multan, he finished Saqlain Mushtaq's career in the most fearful assault the offspinner would have experienced; he toyed with Shane Warne in Chennai; and his 201 in Galle, the innings that he rates as his best, came against Muttiah Muralithran and Ajantha Mendis.

I have a theory about him. It's the spinners he doesn't rate who make him look the silliest.

A postscript is warranted in light of some of the comments. The purpose of the piece wasn't to question Sehwag's skills against spin. In fact it is the opposite. He is so good against them that perhaps he fancies hitting them for a four every ball. Even though he took them for almost a run-a-ball at Galle, he was far more watchful against Murali and Mendis than he allowed himself to be against the New Zealand spinners. But even though he can appear quite reckless at times, he is a cunning player with a keen awareness of his strengths. That's why he averages 50 and not 30.

The Napier dismissals were embarrassing. He is too good a player to premeditate his strokes. Those two strokes should hurt, and make him hungrier.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by breif on (April 18, 2009, 0:53 GMT)

sehwag is the greatest opening batsman of all time next to sunil gavaskar in the world.check his stats...11 of his last 15 hundreds have been over 150...2 triple hundreds against good attacks in quick time

Posted by ravi jain on (April 7, 2009, 6:23 GMT)

viru,i think has got a free license from his coach and captain to go n fire,slog every ball to the boundary until the first wicket goes down to create a terror in balling side captain and take the game away whether it is a t20,a onedayer or a test match!!it doesnt matter whether he gets out cheaply in 4 innings out of 5...........if he clicks then the game is just out of opposition's hand......and that's the way he plays and has won many games for india and that's what made him unique and different from other players..He is a vice-captain too,,,,so he not going to be get out of team if he fails in a series like in newzealand....He should have shown some maturity in the 2nd test match but i think dhoni and kirsten would have a chat on that matter..so in my opinion there's nothing to worry about sehwag,,,,may be in the very next series sehwhack!!!!!! comes back again with a flurry of 4's and 6's......so let him play his own game until players like tendulkar,dravid and laxman are there...

Posted by Irfan on (April 6, 2009, 20:03 GMT)

Its shameful to see how you guys credit Sehwag with destroying Saqlain's career just based on one performance. That with catches dropped off his bowling including the Sami one that I clearly remember and take into account, he had injections in his shoulders to play on that batting paradise track. And Saqi's career if finsihded is due to PCB's mismanagement rather than Sehwag's heroics. Maybe u guys havent watched many triple centuries, so just get carried away!!

Posted by Swatz on (April 6, 2009, 5:43 GMT)

We all understand that Sehwag is a good player. Very few players in the world are flawless. What matters most is how a player overcomes his flaw and creates magic on the field. Thats exactly what sehwag does when he bats.. Anyways guys here is a new scorecard site.. very useful when cricinfo servers get overloaded.. hehe zapakcricket.com

Posted by Abhyuday on (April 2, 2009, 12:00 GMT)

@Stephen Holloway, yeah you are right, Sehwag is not a genius. But you should also understand that nobody in world cricket today can play like him. He played horrendous strokes in the last test, but that is not all there is to Sehwag. I guess you haven't seen his debut innings or the one at Galle or at Adelaide. In all those tests, he batted as the situation demanded and produced three world-class knocks. He is better as an X-factor than a complete run-machine churning out runs mechanically. And please, let Ryder play 70 tests all over the world, perform as well as Sehwag has done, before talking about "taking a leaf out of his book".

Posted by Siddharth Pandit on (March 31, 2009, 11:40 GMT)

It's really funny to read some of the comments describing sehwag as a mediocre and not so great batsman. I didn't wish to reply to them but it really amazes me how people think about a person who has changed the way we thought about the game. Every great player is known by the change he brought to the game. We have sachin who changed the way people saw cricket, dada who changed teh way other international teams looked at India and now sehwag who has just outclassed everyone with his approach. Never in the history of this game we had a player who allows his instincts go over his mind with this degree of success. No Indian batsman, not even tendulkar, could install fear on the mind of some O'Brien that he would get hit for six on the very first ball of test match. This is what sehwag is capable of and he has delivered what he is capable to delivered. A lot of players are searching for the role they are capable to do.

Posted by Stephen Holloway on (March 31, 2009, 9:51 GMT)

Sehwag unfortunately is not a genius as jaymin would like to think. A genius is someone like tendulkar who can change the tempo and way they bat to suit the occasion. Imagine how many hundreds he may have had if he had have been more like a tendulkar or a Dravid. Behind those two and Laxman he doesnt compare in the test arena. Maybe he should take a leaf out of Ryders book, a well composed 200 from a guy who plays a similar style.

Posted by Jaymin on (March 31, 2009, 3:20 GMT)

Stop all this nonsense about sehwag. He is a true genius and definitely one of the greatest ever to play cricket. Doesn't matter if he has no respect for patel or vettori. Remember, every one fails sometimes. You cannot expect the man to make 150s every time he bats. He plays an attacking game and that's the way I love him and admire him. He is canny enough to know his limitations and that's the reason his average is 50 after so many test matches without chaging his style of play. Mark my words: if he plays patel again, he is going to absolutely kill him...........

Posted by Parvez on (March 30, 2009, 18:31 GMT)

I would not write off Sehwag so easily. I was annoyed when he was out so cheaply on day 3 but I can see the reason behind his approach. The idea was for him to get as many quick runs as possible to reduce the deficit. If he stays there for 1 full session, he would've easily knocked off 100 runs from the deficit and that would've released a lot of pressure off the remaining batsmen. I am assuming their strategy was for sehwag to play his natural aggressive game and knock off runs while the rest of the team play for time.

Having said that, he needs to do a better risk assessment against the spinners and perhaps be assured that he will have many many opportunities to explode the ball out of tha park if he occupies the crease for longer periods.

Posted by udhay on (March 30, 2009, 7:19 GMT)

Sehwag is refreshingly unorthodox.He is blessed with a good `eye`.he sights the ball that much earlier and chooses to play that much later and sohe is unpredictable but consistently effective.The bowlers want to get rid of him quickly and Sehwag engineers his own dismissal because of his aggession.He has adapted very well to the opening role and the damage he inflicts early on is unmatched by any modern day `great`. He is an `icon` player and definitely deserves the `great`tag alongside his name.He has succeeded in all formats of the game and has murdered all attacks.His critics have been made to eat humble pie on most occasions,yet they don`t learn.He does not care for the copy book ,which is outdated anyway what with the rapid evolution of the game.His strike rate in all forms of the game is second to none and he massacres quality bowling disdainfully and is responsible for denting the psyche of many a bowler. This joker AAkhund fails to look beyond their Afridi,a loser.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sambit Bal
Editor-in-chief Sambit Bal took to journalism at the age of 19 after realising that he wasn't fit for anything else, and to cricket journalism 14 years later when it dawned on him that it provided the perfect excuse to watch cricket in the office. Among other things he has bowled legspin, occasionally landing the ball in front of the batsman; laid out the comics page of a newspaper; covered crime, urban development and politics; and edited Gentleman, a monthly features magazine. He joined Wisden in 2001 and edited Wisden Asia Cricket and Cricinfo Magazine. He still spends his spare time watching cricket.

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