The Sultan of Multan, the Wall of Galle
106 v England, Trent Bridge, 2002
Success at the top of the order in ODIs had enthused India's team management into promoting Virender Sehwag - a middle-order batsman in all of his first-class and Test cricket up to that point - to open during the tour of England in 2002. A first-innings 84 in the first Test at Lord's, off 96 balls, had revealed what India stood to gain from the move, but also exposed its potential pitfalls. With a century for the taking and stumps around the corner, he was out to an impetuous shot off Ashley Giles, and gave England an opening that they stormed into.
In the second Test at Trent Bridge, Sehwag showed he could score runs consistently enough as an opener to make up for the occasional daft shot. There was swing for the fast bowlers, and Sehwag showed he had more than one gear in scoring 106 off 183 balls, his second Test hundred and also his second-slowest, in India's first-innings total of 357. Wisden was impressed enough to call his innings "handsome and even occasionally restrained".
195 v Australia, MCG, 2003
In Adelaide, in the second Test of their 2003-04 tour of Australia, India had come back from behind to win a historic Test and go 1-0 up in the series, and there was plenty of hurt propelling Australia's fast bowlers as they steamed in on the first day, cheered on by a packed Boxing Day crowd. Brett Lee had missed the first two Tests, and he was eager to test the middle section of a pitch offering both pace and bounce. Sehwag, batting with uncharacteristic restraint against the new ball, took two blows to his helmet in the first hour.
After facing 53 balls, he had only made 16. But once he was set, the familiar rhythms of his batting surfaced. Off his next 25 balls, Sehwag struck six fours and a six and reached his half-century in 78 balls. The pace of his scoring barely abated after that. With Aakash Chopra and Rahul Dravid resolute at the other end in partnerships of 141 and 137, India moved to a dominant position by the middle of the final session. But Australia clawed back with three wickets late in the day, the last of that Sehwag, who holed out trying to reach his double-hundred with a six. There was no arresting the slide next morning, and 278 for 1 had become 366 all out in a match that was eventually lost.
The majesty of Sehwag's 195 wouldn't be dimmed by the match result, though. And its significance was vast, for India. In his first two years as a Test cricketer, Sehwag had made four hundreds, but had never crossed 150. The MCG knock was the first of 11 consecutive centuries that Sehwag stretched past 150.
309 v Pakistan, Multan, 2004
India had not played a Test series in Pakistan since 1989-90. They had not won a Test match in Pakistan, ever. India came into the first Test having won a narrow ODI series 3-2, and won an important toss on a pitch laid out like a red carpet for batsmen. Sehwag didn't just cash in; he did so in a manner few others were capable of. Future oppositions would go into matches wary of his unique ability to sustain cheerful assaults for four or five sessions. This Pakistan side was the first to feel the full force of it. They may have felt, when they dropped him either side of lunch on 68 and 77, that he couldn't survive too much longer given the approach he was adopting.
Little did they know. The three fast bowlers, a bouncer-happy Shoaib Akhtar among them, conceded over a hundred runs each. Saqlain Mushtaq was swatted out of Test cricket with figures of 1 for 204. Sehwag ended the first day on 228, and soon after lunch on day two swung Saqlain over the midwicket boundary to become the first Indian batsman to score a triple-hundred. Missing out on an MCG double-hundred while trying to get there with a six hadn't tempered his bravado one bit. Not even after his idol Sachin Tendulkar, batting at the other end, allegedly told him: "If you try to hit a six, I will hit you on the bum."
It had taken Sehwag only 364 balls to reach 300. The pace of his scoring allowed India to declare with a score of 675 while still having ample time to bowl Pakistan out twice, on what was still a good pitch to bat on. India won the Test by an innings, and went on to claim the three-Test series 2-1. For Sehwag, it was the start of a predatory relationship: he would go on to average 91.14 in Tests against Pakistan, scoring two more double-hundreds against them to go with this triple.
155 v Australia, Chennai, 2004
Australia won the first Test in Bangalore, but an Anil Kumble seven-for on the first day of the Chennai Test brought India back into the series. Their reply to Australia's 235, however, was never going to be straightforward on a pitch offering turn, bounce and plenty of reverse-swing. Shane Warne took out the first two Indian wickets on the second morning, inching above Muttiah Muralitharan to reclaim the Test-wickets record in a battle that was seesawing this way and that.
Even as Australia's blue-chip bowling attack of McGrath, Gillespie, Kasprowicz and Warne suffocated his succession of batting partners at the other end, Sehwag found ways to score runs after a cautious start. He didn't look entirely secure, as leading edges popped into the off side and miscued heaves fell between fielders, but he hit Warne fearlessly, through and over the leg side, and gave India thrust as they moved towards a first-innings lead.
When Sehwag was sixth out, they were two runs from completing that objective. He had made 155 off 221 balls. In his time at the crease, everyone else including Mr. Extras had combined to score 78 off 253. Sehwag's innings set India up for a lead of 141, and though Australia fought back through a Damien Martyn hundred to set India a target of 229, it was probably only a washed-out fifth day that denied them a win.
151 v Australia, Adelaide, 2008
Sehwag was dropped from India's Test side after a run of 12 Tests between January 2006 and January 2007 that brought him 581 runs at an average of 27.66. He wasn't part of the probables for the 2007-08 Australia tour, but he made the final squad upon the insistence of their Test captain Anil Kumble. Having missed the first two games, he came back for the third Test in Perth and contributed scores of 29 and 43 to a famous win.
Still, India were 2-1 down going into the final Test in Adelaide. At the start of the final day of a high-scoring Test in which both sides made over 500 in their first innings, India were effectively 8 for 1 in the third, with little hope of leveling the series and plenty of work still to do to save the Test.
It soon became a game of two ends. At the end that wasn't occupied by Sehwag, Australia made regular inroads. Of the nine others who batted in the innings, MS Dhoni made the highest score - 20. At the other end, Sehwag - grassed by Michael Clarke late on the fourth day - played an innings of many moods. He scored briskly in the morning session, going after anything wide of his off stump, and went to lunch batting on 103 off 131 balls. After lunch, he staged a strategic retreat when Mitchell Johnson and Brett Lee snuffed out Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman. Sehwag knew how valuable his wicket was, and refused to be drawn into anything extravagant.
Between lunch and tea, Sehwag didn't hit a single boundary, scoring 29 runs off 68 balls. By the time he was out in the 12th over after tea, he had steered India to the verge of safety. On an individual level, the hundred, Sehwag's first in the second innings, re-established his place as India's numero uno opener.
319 v South Africa, Chennai, 2008
India's next Test after Adelaide was in Chennai, a series opener against a South African side that was building up some serious steam as a force in Test cricket. Since losing 2-0 in Sri Lanka in 2006, South Africa had wrapped up six straight Test series wins, with a man named Dale Steyn shedding the waywardness of his early career and emerging as the world's most exciting fast bowler. In those six series wins, Steyn took 73 wickets in 12 Tests at an average of 15.95.
South Africa batted first, and amassed 540. There were signs already that the MA Chidambaram Stadium pitch was exceedingly flat, but India still had Steyn and scoreboard pressure to deal with. Sehwag marked the occasion with the highest Test score made by an Indian, bettering his own 309 by 10 runs, and getting to his triple-hundred even quicker. It had taken him 364 balls to reach the landmark in Multan; this time it took him 278 balls. No one had done it quicker.
At the end of day three, India were only 72 behind South Africa, with nine wickets in hand. The way Sehwag was going, Brian Lara's Test-record score of 400* was under threat, and a push for an innings win looked plausible. As it happened - and as it happened on a number of notable occasions during his career - India collapsed after Sehwag's dismissal, losing their last nine wickets for 146 runs. Steyn, bowling full and reversing it, blew away the lower order.
A second-innings hundred from Neil McKenzie ensured the draw that had always been on the cards, and Steyn, running through India on an atypically green Ahmedabad pitch, won South Africa the second Test. It would take a made-to-order dustbowl in Kanpur to ensure a drawn series.
201* v Sri Lanka, Galle, 2008
In the three Tests of India's 2008 tour of Sri Lanka, Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis picked up 47 wickets between them, at an average of 20.11. They sent down 73% of Sri Lanka's overs in the series, and the often uncomprehending response of India's batsmen to their bowling was in large part responsible for Sri Lanka's 2-1 win.
They couldn't defeat Sehwag, however. Muralitharan dismissed him only once in six innings, and Mendis never, as Sehwag piled up 344 runs at an average of 68.80. Along the way, he won India the second Test in Galle with an astonishing unbeaten double-hundred that made him the second Indian batsman to carry his bat through an innings.
A 167-run opening stand with Gautam Gambhir - out of which Sehwag made 101 - set India up nicely on the first day before the wickets tumbled; four in four overs and India were 178 for 4. Apart from Gambhir's 56 and a 39 from VVS Laxman, no one who batted at the end opposite Sehwag's got into double figures. But Sehwag made enough runs off his own bat, playing fearlessly against the turn to find the gaps against the spinners, to lead India to a first-innings total of 329. He reached his double-hundred after refusing singles on 199 to protect the No. 11 Ishant Sharma, and in the end his unbeaten 201 off 231 balls comprised nearly 62% of India's total score. The innings won a Cricinfo award, and, accepting it, Sehwag revealed his method against Muralitharan, while saying he found Mendis easier to read out of his hand.
"I was not able to pick [Muralitharan's] doosra, so I treated every ball as a doosra and tried to hit it," he said. "But I found them to be off-spinners. It did not matter much as I was getting boundaries."
83 v England, Chennai, 2008
Sehwag scored 23 Test hundreds, but his defining knock, for a lot of his fans, might be one that stopped 17 short of three figures. The innings, after all, encapsulated his power to change the mood and momentum of a Test match in the space of a session.
England, buoyed by twin centuries from Andrew Strauss, had bossed the match for three days and two sessions. When they declared three overs after tea on the fourth day, they set India a target of 387. In 18 overs, India had shaved 100 runs off that target, with Sehwag tearing into England's bowling attack. James Anderson and Steve Harmison gave him width, criminally, and Sehwag had smashed them for seven fours and a six - all but one of those shots peppering the arc between third man and cover point - by the end of the fifth over. By the time he was out in the 23rd over, he had scored 83 and put on 117 with Gautam Gambhir.
India's task was still tricky, but Sehwag's effort made it a whole lot more doable. They began the final day needing a further 256, with nine wickets in hand, and a cathartic century from Tendulkar took them over the line.
293 v Sri Lanka, Mumbai, 2009
A year on from their 2-1 series win at home, Sri Lanka headed to India for the return tour. They were 1-0 down going into the final Test, but had batted themselves into an excellent position by the end of day one. On a true Brabourne pitch, a century from Tillakaratne Dilshan had taken them to 366 for 8. By the time their innings ended in the fifth over of the second morning, they had stretched their total to 393. They had scored their runs at a rate of 4.15 per over.
By the end of the second day, India were leading by 50, with nine wickets in hand and an innings win - which would take them to No. 1 in the Test rankings - in their sights. Sehwag was batting on 284 off 239 balls, after less than a full day at the crease. He had made a career out of making batting look easy, but even he had never made it look this easy. He had smashed seven sixes and 40 fours, though the verb smashed didn't appropriately describe all his shots: he used the pace of the ball expertly to pick up a series of boundaries with late cuts and dabs, particularly off Muttiah Muralitharan and Angelo Mathews.
The next day, Sehwag was in sight of his third triple-hundred in Tests. No one had ever achieved the feat. But he couldn't get past the 290s for once, with Muralitharan snaring him caught-and-bowled.
165 v South Africa, Kolkata, 2010
In the opening Test of the series, in Nagpur, Sehwag had made a defiant century in a losing cause while Steyn bowled one of his great spells. Now, India were at the Eden Gardens, hoping for a comeback at the scene of their greatest comeback. The seeds of one were sown on the first afternoon, when Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh triggered a South African collapse from 218 for 1 to 296 all out.
Sehwag took off like a rocket, hitting Steyn for three successive fours in the third over of India's innings. He didn't spare Morne Morkel or Wayne Parnell either, and by the end of the ninth over India were 68 for 0. But Gambhir was run out in the next over, thanks largely to a poor call from Sehwag, and when Morkel dismissed M Vijay cheaply, India were looking a touch wobbly at 82 for 2.
It was a moment South Africa needed to seize, and they nearly did so, only for JP Duminy to drop Sehwag on 47 when he edged Morkel to slip. A few quiet overs followed, but once Sehwag regained his composure, the ball resumed flying to all parts. He ran to his hundred off 87 balls, and at the other end, Tendulkar was giving a masterclass of calm, controlled run-gathering. By the time South Africa ended their partnership, Sehwag and Tendulkar had added 249. Another double-century stand, between VVS Laxman and MS Dhoni, allowed India to declare with a lead of 347 and have just enough time to bowl out South Africa - held together by a defiant Hashim Amla - for a second time.
Karthik Krishnaswamy is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo