India v West Indies, 4th ODI, Indore December 8, 2011

From batting long to just batting

Unlike he did before the World Cup, Virender Sehwag is not premeditating to bat 50 overs anymore. He is batting with a free mind despite an unremarkable year ... until today

Forget that Virender Sehwag has always been one of the few tipped to get to the double-century mark in ODIs. Also forget that he was not the first to get there: he lost out to a freak combination of perfection, calculation and endurance from his idol. Just keep in mind that he has yet to end unbeaten when batting first in a non-shortened ODI. Imagine the day he does that, the day he bats for 3.3 overs longer than he did today.

Today will be a day for superlatives, and you could be excused for getting carried away and comparing this to Usain Bolt starting to celebrate in the last 10m and still smashing the 100m record at the 2008 Olympics. That Sehwag didn't seem to have to stretch himself might make you think so. Two hundred and nineteen might seem small the day he bats out 50 overs in good batting conditions.

Sehwag threatened to do it at the start of the World Cup earlier this year. In the first match of the event he fought the temptation of hitting spinners out of Dhaka, he also fought the boredom of the middle overs and had to endure back trouble to get to 175. He decided later he could do without that much premeditation. He stopped conditioning his mind to bat long and went back to reacting to the ball and the immediate situation.

After the match in Indore he said you could only score ODI double-hundreds after the age of 30. "You need to be experienced," he said. He spoke of the Mirpur innings; the last time he batted 47 overs, he said, he scored only 175. This time he got 219. The difference mostly was that batting for a particular duration of time did not dominate his thinking, only batting did. His game, he has maintained, has relied solely on eliminating all premeditation: why cloud the mind by telling it you have to bat for a particular duration?

You could see he didn't put in that extra effort to last the whole innings today. He saw a flat pitch, a quick and small outfield, not the best bowling on offer, and wanted to enjoy the journey. If he could bat long enough, great; if not, so be it. During one particular spell in Mirpur, he went 30 balls without a boundary; the longest such drought today was 11 balls. Even during that period the pressure on bowlers was such that Darren Sammy, not wanting to pitch in Sehwag's hitting zone, gave away five wides down the leg side.

The delight of finding gaps, the soul of Sehwag's batting, was back today. One of the few things - perhaps the only thing - that West Indies got right was to cut off boundaries down the ground. Of his 25 fours and seven sixes, Sehwag hit 20 and two behind square respectively. A few of those admittedly came off rubbish bowling, especially the ones past short fine leg, but the ones through third man were the real deal.

Often he would show the bowlers only the inside edge of the bat, and with his wrists impart power to open-face shots, hit from in front of the stumps to behind square. A few of them came off slow bowling. It's a technique necessitated by pitches where the ball doesn't come on. Then there were two sixes behind square. The first upper-cut was played deliberately fine to miss third man, and the second was a good old-fashioned whack to celebrate the double. Then there was the paddle that he played without even bending.

The only predetermination was to get on top of the bowler early if the opportunity presented itself. Ravi Rampaul, Sunil Narine, Darren Sammy, Marlon Samuels and Kieron Pollard went for boundaries off the first balls they bowled to Sehwag. Then again Sehwag didn't go out of his way to manufacture a shot. He just reacted to what he might have thought were boundary balls, his definition of a boundary ball being completely different to anyone else's.

The reaction to this feat hasn't been one of surprise, despite the kind of year Sehwag has had: just one international century and the low of a king pair to his name so far. It's because we know only Sehwag has a thought process clear enough to come up with such an innings at the end of an average year. He came out today as if he had scored 150 in his last innings, while in fact he had taken seven innings to get his last 150 runs.

Sehwag's expected reaction to such slumps is to tell himself that when you play at the highest level for 10 years, you are bound to have one such year. The only time you could perhaps tell he was coming off a lean patch was when he - known for his often-careless running between the wickets - dived full length to make his crease when on 77, a sight the biggest cricket nerds will struggle to recall seeing before. He had got a start, and didn't want to throw it away through a run-out.

By the time he was done, he was left a tired man, he said. That didn't show until the last five overs or so when the fielders started throwing everything at his end. Until then he kept finding gaps delightfully, not letting the middle overs or defensive fields inhibit him. This aspect of his batting separates him from other big hitters in an era when batsmen have lost most of their fears, and is the reason why his record will remain under constant threat. From himself.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on December 10, 2011, 16:48 GMT

    Some sad, bitter and unhealthy souls are making it sound as though this was the first time an ODI was played on a batting track in a smallish ground and that till now no batsmen got to play an ODI on a batting track in a smallish ground. What about those brutal centuries by Gibbs and Ponting at New Wanderes, Johannesburg in a 'mini-stadium' with 50-55 yard boundaries, on a belter of a track and both the teams scored over 400??? Thumbs down to all those sore losers who 'woke up' all of a sudden and started complaining.

  • Kapil on December 10, 2011, 15:13 GMT

    Why do we have to compare one player's achievement to another's? Every player's success and achievement should be enjoyed. Players play with Great Spirit and can't be hitting boundaries at every occasion. If in case one player comes out and hit shot frequently and score good runs in every single game, there won't be any challenge we will bored to see him scoring high at every occasion. Cricket should be enjoyed every moment and success of Indian Team's player should be greatly appreciated. Don't forget when Sachin scored 200 runs, he said" Only Sehwag can break this record". Congratulations Sehwag and thank you for wonderful entertainment.

  • victoria on December 10, 2011, 14:18 GMT

    I'm an ardent fan of Mr Sehwag, because he is one of the handful of batsmen who were naturally born with the gift to entertain fans in any format of cricket. He ensures that in what ever format he plays, the viability of cricket as a competetive sport should be secured. However, I don't think that because Mr Sehwag who opens the innings in every ODI match that he plays, happened to compile a score of 200 in one of his 200+ innings, 'is beyond human descrption' as folks like Sanjay Manjreakar think! Isn't a score of 100 from 120 available deliveries in a T/20 match, a much more amazing feat, than a score of 200 from 300 (50 OVERS)? But why there's so much hype in the air when an Indian does something special in cricket? Which of these performances is more bionic, and hence need more hype: Shane Watson scoring 186 'NOT OUT' IN 25 OVERS; or Sehwag scoring 219 'OUT' in 46 OVERS? But I did not hear half of what is being said now, said after Watson's bionic performance - it's all forgotten!

  • Dummy4 on December 10, 2011, 13:47 GMT

    @Alexk400, its easy to say Sachin plays for himself, but when he scores doesn't the runs count toward the team. And ask any team will they pick Sehwag over Sachin, the answer is no. Look at the averages. Sachin is more reliable. Yes India wins when Sehwag has his day, but it is not Tendulkar's fault when he plays the entire team collapses. Plus Sehwag has a good game every 5-7 games, while Sachin has ever 2 games. Plus, Sachin's double came against Steyn and co, that is the biggest factor in my opinion.

  • A on December 10, 2011, 12:45 GMT

    @ CijoAntony: You are right, consistent performers should be given higher priority in the team. I am just looking forward to how Sehwag + Gambhir perform in AUS condition. Full credit to Sehwag for this world record knock, but he should now try scoring 35-45 average at the top, only then India has a chance to do well in AUS ODI series. This is probably the weakest AUS team that India will face this time, but still I am not confident how India will deliver in the TEST series, it will be again Dravid in batting and Zak (if he's back) in the bowling who can lift us up. I don't expect anything gr8 from others except one odd performance in one odd match.

  • Dummy4 on December 10, 2011, 12:06 GMT

    mr blue android in one day matches pitches are flat and boundries are short everywhere and best flat tracks are in australia and southafrica why? because in india wickets are two paced slow difficult for shot making and australia true bounce also in aussies sehwag scored 195 in a day and eng is a pathetic team cantplay one day club players and if you r international players if you want 45matches to score something toplzplay club cricket everybody these days visit regularly sehwag debut in sa and scored hundred in debut in green track look shane watson pathetic in test matches he in sa looks like a tailender against swinging balll aussies englishmen are a big jelous

  • A on December 10, 2011, 11:19 GMT

    @the_blue_android : Well said..perfect analysis..totally agree.

  • Dummy4 on December 10, 2011, 9:04 GMT

    those people who are telling that sehwag fails miserably when India needs him to fire like in SA, WC, England. for their information ,he played his first ODI against australia against bowler like fleming,mcgrath and shane warn.he scored fifty and was rewarded with man of the match.his first test match was against south africa on a fast pitch where he scored his maiden century

  • Cijo on December 10, 2011, 7:26 GMT

    Well done Sehwag though it comes very late than we thing to be noted that, sehwag's batting 35 while Jedeja got 32 avr. !!! Cricket means consistancy, that should be achived if you are a great cricketer.

  • Dummy4 on December 10, 2011, 6:48 GMT

    Not enough we need 419 in test match

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