England v India, 4th npower Test, The Oval August 17, 2011

Wanted, the Sehwag of old

For India to have a chance of leaving England with a Test victory, they need Virender Sehwag to attack, but only after settling in

Virender Sehwag remembers 2007, when India were touring England, taking on jellybeans and giving swing-bowling lessons. Sehwag was at home in Delhi, watching the series on television and experiencing, for the first time in his Test career, what being dropped felt like.

Of all the Indian 'galacticos' on this tour, only Sehwag may still be around when India return to England but that too would be touch and go. It would be a pity were Sehwag to leave The Oval without a trademark fireworks display because he has a unique place not just in this team but in Test history as well.

England is where Sehwag was launched as a Test opener who rewrote not just rules but entire rulebooks about the technique needed to succeed in England, the mandatory temperament required for an opener and the divine power of footwork. Sehwag brought a completely different dimension to the opener's role in Test matches and, with it, has become the most attacking Test opener in the game's history, even with the generous cut-off of at least 1000 Test runs.

Yet, on the eve of the final Test of India's anti-climactic tour of England, Sehwag is just another struggling Indian opener with a king pair to his name. Just that thought should make him slash at the first ball he faces over slips for six, except that he is a man rarely given to rage - other than in the ferocity of stroke play.

The Sehwag India need, to steady its wobbling axis, is not merely the 45-minute whirwind but the assured batsman who took away India's trepidation around opening stands, opened up matches in sessions and allowed others to play their own game. That man, however, has been missing on India's previous two tours outside the subcontinent. In New Zealand and South Africa, series separated by 20 months, Sehwag scored one fifty in 11 innings - a top score of 63 - and averaged 25.81. That is as un-Sehwag-like a performanceas were his Edbaston ducks. Instead of working his way through a cricketing convalescence after shoulder surgery, Sehwag believed he could burst out the door.

His captain MS Dhoni, however, brushed off the two failures. "If you see Virender Sehwag, irrespective of where he is playing, what the conditions are, he plays his own game. He backs himself to play shots and at times he may get out. So you may say it was one of those games where he got out."

Sehwag may well be a batsman stripped down to David Gower's essentials of see-ball-hit-ball. His best innings, however, particularly outside Asian pitches, have come when he constructed them brick by brick, as opposed to what he does at home - unfurl the Big Top. Sehwag's "natural game" is more than the thin excuse that is often dished out for his failures. The real "natural game" is actually the gunpowder behind the fireworks: it lies not only in Sehwag's "natural" gifts: timing, balance, aggression, clarity of thought - but also in Sehwag's acute understanding of tempo. His "natural game" is as much calculative as it is instinctive. It is two simultaneous pieces of judgement - of what to hit and when. When they are in sync, he is at his most dangerous and most effective.

During his maiden century as Test opener, in Nottingham 2002, Sehwag's first fifty came off 106 balls. In December 2003, he scored 195 in Melbourne before tea, but what is forgotten is that after the first 16 overs, Sehwag was 16 off 47 balls. His previous century outside the subcontinent, in January 2008, is also his only second-innings century away from home. The 151 in Adelaide had a tempo that could interest a composer: the first fifty off 78 balls, the second off 45 and the third off 105.

His king pair, say those who know him best, is a reflection of where Sehwag found himself at Edgbaston, just off surgery. Underprepared and in a corner, he opted for attack to shake off the rust, attack for the sake of attack, attack to stamp his authority by chancing his luck. Wrong place, wrong time.

"What's important is he [Sehwag] still backs himself to play those shots and that's one thing that will definitely help us win more games," Dhoni said. "We are a side that relies heavily on the opening pair." The opening stands in England - 63, 19, 0, 6, 8 and 3 - have begun the slide. Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, considered India's best openers in the last 25 years, were involved in only the last two, Gambhir's scores in the first and third Test were 15, 22, 38 and 14.

"Whenever we have got off to a good start, the middle and the lower-middle order have really capitalised on it and been able to put par-plus scores. I think we rely on it but it's not that we can't score if the openers don't score. I don't want to put any extra pressure on the openers."

It's a bit too late. India are in danger of losing 0-4, a scoreline worse than the Summer of 42, a euphemism for the 1974 tour, when India were bowled out for their lowest Test score. The Oval, however, is not a bad place for India to try and regain their breath. On their previous two tours, India's first-innings scores at the Oval were 508 and 664. For that, though, India needs Sehwag to settle in, stretch himself and once again, regain his authority as an opener of influence outside the sub-continent. It needs the real Virender Sehwag to exhale.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • stuart on August 18, 2011, 15:53 GMT

    I wish we could bowl at sehwag all the time.What average would Cook have if he batted in India all the time.You have to be good in all conditions and Viv was miles ahead of Sehwag against some pretty good attacks.

  • akhilesh on August 18, 2011, 15:51 GMT

    @raj12345.. please dont speak when u dont know the facts.. instead of last 2 yrs, just look back at the wc.. india vs bangladesh.. there was a certain virender sehwag who took the bangladeshis to the cleaners so much so that even the crowd was shell shocked, let alone the bangladeshi players.. this after overlookiing the countless flying starts he gave to the team in the world cup..

  • Madhusudhan on August 18, 2011, 15:32 GMT

    Common guys, Dont blame too much on Sehwag, it was his first test after surgery. What are the other guys doing...what about Sachin/Laxman/Gambir??? One thing for sure, Without Sehwag, its almost impossible to win test matches. India need him and I am sure, he will fire!!!

  • Mohan on August 18, 2011, 14:59 GMT

    What is baffling is why are they not picking Wasim Jaffer ? He is in excellent form in English county cricket, and he is right there, available and ready to play for team India. Yes, there is a problem finding the player to drop, but it is surprising b.c.c.i has not exercised all options.

  • Jason on August 18, 2011, 14:16 GMT

    How on Earth can you say Sehwag "rewrote not just rules but entire rulebooks about the technique needed to succeed in England, the mandatory temperament required for an opener" etc after his woeful performance last test?

  • Ganesh on August 18, 2011, 13:25 GMT

    This is the time to think BCCI, because those are the people denying indian players to play in county circuit.Atleast players like Irfan ,Uthappa, pandey and all other young players can gain some experinace and i dont think they are playing any cricket at the moment. Come on BCCI dont take the opportunity of other players to gain some experiance and also money in England.

  • Raj on August 18, 2011, 13:22 GMT

    @Asad Raza - 100 % agree with you. People are not honest. It is not matter of Injury to Shewag. Can anyone tell me when Shewag played good innings in ODI or test in last 2 years. He had very bad period once and about go out of cricket, then Chikka brought him back. Again, last 2 years he is doing the same. very worst. Just remove him.

    He was glorious once upon time, don't make us stupid by keep saying this for years. Then bring Kapil, Gavaskar & Shatri ect to team, since they were glorious. Indian cricket is not only current players. Looks like they rented their place permanently and not doing anything.

  • siddhinath on August 18, 2011, 13:14 GMT

    Can anyone please tell me about the Summer of 42, ?

  • Steve on August 18, 2011, 12:45 GMT

    Every cricket fan would love to see the old Shewag again, because of the joy and exhilaration he creates. However, I feel his best days are behind him. He, like the great Viv Richards, depend on hand-eye coordination to attack the ball and lack sold defensive technique to compensate slowing reflexes due aging. Unlike, Viv, Shewag is not a natural athlete, hence gets injured more often unless he puts in a lot of hard work to stay in shape. I also hope he goes out with a bang even though my heart says he won't.

  • Ravi on August 18, 2011, 11:44 GMT

    If only Sehwag had opted out of this year's IPL and not postponed his surgery he would have been fit,up and running for the England tour.So clearly he had his options and he is now paying for it.Frankly it did not seem to not figure highly in his scheme of things and we are seeing the consequences.One needs to be at the top of his game and fitness if one wants to do well for his side in England where the conditions test the best at their best. The fourth test will go the same way as do not possess the attack to get 20 wickets.With RP playing and Raina being retained the chances of even a draw look bleak.

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