India in New Zealand, 2008-09 March 28, 2009

Why spinners can make Sehwag look silly

Sehwag is among the most unbelievable batsman of his time, and the most frustrating too. Against spinners he doesn't rate, he isn't even prepared to confer the bowler of one ball of watchfulness

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