India v England, 1st Test, Ahmedabad, 1st day November 15, 2012

Discipline, Sehwag style

There will be those who will still pick holes in Virender Sehwag's opening-day hundred, but he could not have done much more to make up for a two-year century drought and set the tone for the series

There are two sides to this Virender Sehwag century, his first since November 2010, which was incidentally scored at the same venue. The one obvious aspect, which will leave doubters unsatisfied, revealed itself in the first over of the match when a short-of-a-length ball bounced knee high and a length ball was met alongside the shin. Then again, sometimes Sehwag does not do himself any favours by making certain kinds of pitches look much easier than they actually are.

The other aspect of the innings was its impact, which actually surfaced with the control England could exert after he got out. Sehwag scored 117 off 117, the rest managed 206 off 424. While Sehwag was at the wicket, England looked almost helpless and India went at close to 4.5 an over. After Sehwag, England became part of action too, and India crawled at under 2.5 an over for the rest of the day.

This was a slow and low pitch difficult to take wickets on - definitely not one where spinners can hit batsmen in the ribs - but it was also a pitch difficult to score fast on. India would need all the time and scoreboard pressure to take wickets here, and it is Sehwag who has provided them that without even stretching himself.

It was not just about the pitch, it was also the first morning of a big series against a side that had not long ago whitewashed India. England's best chance was against the openers who have both been through extended dry runs. One opener was coming in without a century in nearly two years, the other in nearly three. Their last century partnership came in 2010 in Centurion. At the same time, India needed to take immediate control. And when you need immediate control - in certain conditions, it must be added - you dial for Sehwag.

And it's slightly simplistic to scoff at the conditions. Agreed there was no bounce, pace or sideways movement on offer in the morning session, but these conditions are difficult to dominate in once the fielding side sits back and intends to cut down the runs. England went for just that as soon as they realised there was nothing in it for their quicks. Mid-off and cover went back, and just one slip and gully remained.

It had the desired effect on Gautam Gambhir, who became edgy and tried to manufacture cuts and punches off Graeme Swann, finally falling to one such shot. And Sehwag? He seemed to be batting on a flat track with true bounce where it seemed all he had to do was plant the front foot down and play his shots. And he did so without going out of his way. If you hadn't seen the scoreboard, you would have thought this was old-fashioned Test batting where he was looking to see the new ball off. He glided more than carved, steered more than smashed, and yet brought up his sixth century at more than a run a ball, now behind only Adam Gilchrist among batsmen to do so since 1990.

There was this one time in the first session when he had moved forward to a shortish delivery from Tim Bresnan. The ball stayed low, and yet somehow he managed to - even while moving forward - punch it wide of mid-on for four. The look of disbelief on England faces clearly suggested they should be getting wickets off those balls, not going for fours.

Then there were the shots where he compensated for lack of room with the open face and the wrists behind the shots. Two overs before that punch for four, he received one near yorker from Bresnan, on middle and off, and without even backing away he managed to create his own room by opening the face and unfurling the wrists behind it.

The other feature of the innings was his shot selection. He didn't go slashing after everything, nor did he leave the crease even once against the spinners. Too often when it becomes, or looks easy, he tries adventure, almost as if fighting boredom. Today it was all determination. He batted like a batsman should after two years without a century. Don't go by his strike-rate; it misleads. This was an innings of discipline, of opportunistic discipline.

There were quite a few overs in the morning session when the bowlers would bowl accurately to him, giving him neither driving length nor cutting room. And he would block and block and block, only to pounce on the first sight of width. Stuart Broad discovered that before lunch after an over full of shortish deliveries that shaped back in. And when he provided slight width with the last ball, he was cut away for four.

There will still be those - and they won't be unjustified - who will point to the conditions when they talk of this innings, but it should also be noted that accumulating in these conditions is one thing, and quite another to boss them. And Sehwag deserves his due credit for bossing here.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on November 16, 2012, 19:51 GMT

    @sportofan You already acknowledged that nowadays most Test matches end with time in hand. So let's say Sehwag scores a century in 100 minutes whereas player X scores the same century in 300 minutes. If the Test match ends on Day 5, 200 minutes before the close, how does exactly scoring quickly help? On the other hand, by occupying the crease for 200 extra minutes, player X probably formed more partnerships, and wore the opposition bowlers down. I have seen batsmen winning or saving the matches by forming partnerships with tail enders. Also if the team needs to play for a draw where they don't have any chance of winning, the 300 minutes century is more valuable. Have you ever heard the term occupying the crease?

  • Dummy4 on November 16, 2012, 19:40 GMT

    @everyone who is missing the point. It is very logical for batsmen to perform well in home conditions. In my book, for a player to qualify as great, they don't need to have a better away average than home average. But they must have enough outstanding performances to prove that they can perform in all conditions. Outstanding performance is what sets the great player apart from the rest. In Sehwag's case, he has very few centuries in all conditions. Secondly, most of his big scores are on tracks where others have scored heavily as well. Just look at the aggregate match scores and what percentage of total runs has Sehwag scores for a match where he performs. Sehwag has rarely shown the ability to bat on tricky pitches where others have struggled. Show me examples of such innings and I will say he is a great player. In away matches Sehwag averages 46, 27, 20 and 25 against Austalia, England, New Zealand, South Africa. Not great by any means!

  • Naveen on November 16, 2012, 12:30 GMT

    Sehwag is a genius. Had he scored greatly even in Overseas, he would have been the greatest batsmen only next to the Don & Sir Viv, thanks to his mercurial strike rate in Tests. He isnt and hence critics can thank their stars for tht or he would have been way beyond the reach of many overhyped batsmen. Most important point is Sehwag has always been an opener who obviously faced the max. & best swinging deliveries tht any pitch can offer. Am sure his avgs wud have been even better in Overseas had he been a middle order bat. Flat track bully doesnt hold good any more simply because there is no who can bat like him anywhere. Its a case of sour grapes and detractors can take a walk.

  • Dummy4 on November 16, 2012, 6:45 GMT

    Why cry about the flat track bully time and again whenever any team get the Sehwag treatment. When he gets going neither the surface nor the opposition matters. He just destroys whatever comes in his way. Sehwag has scored centuries at SA on debut, scored 85 odd in his first test in england followed it up with a century in the 2nd test, has centuries in australia, newzeland, WI etc. pitches of these countries are certainly not flat....he had scored big centuries in SL against murli & medis, the thought of facing these bowlers was enough for others. he scored a triple ton against pakistan in pakistan which boast of a certian sohaib aktar leave aside the tiple ton against SA with all the lethal bowlers.... so its neither pitch nor the bowler but the mindset of sehwag which has time and again destroyed the opposition. SO PLEASE STOP COMPLAINING AND ENJOY THE MAGIC OF ONE THE MOST DOMINATING BATSMAN OF MODERN ERA,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,

  • narsimha on November 16, 2012, 6:33 GMT

    Craig Chan- it appears u r fully baesed on SAHWAAG pl go to the stats available on this very web , very few with better away ave,in comprision to home SACHIN IS LEADING THIS LEAGUE with better ave, more centuries in out side than home , on chechkng the present primier bats man each fromm ENG & AUS , - PIETERSON from ENG his stats - his home ave-is far better than his overall ave - 55 , against 49 overall, only 3 centuries with 38 ave,in ASIA, , similarly PONTING is al;so pathetic in ASIA & particularly in INDIA, where according to u people any body can score runs in truck loads against clublevel IND bowling , only 5 centuries were scored in ASIA, the way SAHWAAG PLAYS HIS OVER ALL performance can be put in the league of great players ,

  • SANDEEPKUMAR on November 16, 2012, 6:27 GMT

    @craig chan: just checking out how well others players have performed in india and check the avg ponting;39.48 pietersen:33.96 cook:40.81 clarke:39.81 bell:29.60 gilchrist:33.25 greame smith:41.18 if these great batsman cant even play on flat tracks how can you call them good batsman. home conditions always favours the home team. if u call sehwag a flat track bully then all the bowlers outside subcontinent are green top bullies they are not good bowlers that's why they incapable of taking wicket in india

  • Ivan on November 16, 2012, 6:19 GMT

    @Craig Chan: Completely wrong to say scoring at a quick rate does not matter in a 5 day game. You misunderstand cricket if you feel that way. You only win matches if you can score quickly and put the opposition under pressure because the one thing that is finite is time. Over the past 10-15 years the average runs per over have gone up in comparison with the 1980's and 1990's. You will also find that a greater % of matches ended in results.

    Also wrong to state that the aggregate scores are high when Sehwag bats - you are confusing cause and effect. Often it is BECAUSE he scores big that the team gets a big total. Chepauk v Aussies in 2004, Melbourne v Aussies in 2003 are but examples of this.

    Let's not belabor the point - you are entitled to your opinion. To me he is a genius. Just look at how the scoring rate has dropped after he has been dismissed. The others just don't have his ability and we are talking about players of the class of Sachin etc.

  • joseph on November 16, 2012, 6:19 GMT

    When sehwag plays, he make others ordinary. All the indians are very far from his strike rate.

  • Manesh on November 16, 2012, 5:42 GMT

    He may not be good outside sub-continent, but he is good enough for any top class bowling in sub-continent. Everyone gets advantage of home conditions. So nothing to disrespect his innings.

  • Joseph on November 16, 2012, 4:04 GMT

    #Craig Chan. So per your definition, Ricky Ponting with an average of 26 on India's flat tracks is miles away from being a great?

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