Daredevils' struggles mirror Sehwag decline
Two years ago, in Kochi, Naman Ojha was caught boot before wicket by a Sreesanth delivery that pitched good length and just rolled along the ground. Three balls earlier, David Warner had been bowled, trying to play a shorter one off the back foot. The ball had gone through at shin height. It was the seventh delivery of the game. Difficult pitch. Difficult situation. Virender Sehwag had watched those dismissals from the non-striker's end. He'd responded with a masterly, match-winning 80 off 47, after saying at the toss the soil was coming off the pitch whenever someone walked on it. The next highest score in the game was Ravindra Jadeja's 31 when the chase was all but over.
The Hyderabad surface tonight was nowhere close to that Kochi one on the difficulty scale. Yes, it was by no means a stand-and-hit pitch. Yes, a few kept very low. But there was as much chance of getting a boot before wicket as there is now of Delhi Daredevils making the playoffs. One of the highlights of Sehwag's Kochi innings had been his late-cutting from close to the stumps on a pitch where survival was a lottery for others. In Hyderabad, he didn't even try to late-cut; he tried to dab a Darren Sammy delivery to third man. It came in, stayed slightly low and hit off. More worryingly, it hit off when Sehwag's bat was still to complete its downward swing. This has been some decline for one of the most destructive batsmen in the history of the game.
To be fair to Sehwag, he hadn't thrown it away, like he did so often in his prime when the runs used to flow. In fact, his 8 off 17 was the slowest among the Daredevils' top seven. It just wasn't happening for him. As it hasn't at the international level for some time now. There too, it wasn't as if he was giving it away. He had tried to rein himself in, played more circumspectly, but was getting dismissed trying to defend.
Tonight, he saw Dale Steyn toying with Mahela Jayawardene in the opening over and played out a maiden to Ishant Sharma next. He took nine deliveries to get off the mark. He didn't attack when he was offered width, and was so stunned by a Steyn bouncer, he fended it painfully off the forearm.
Sehwag's strike-rate this IPL season is a completely unSehwag-like 123.62. The lowest before this was 143.47 in 2009, when the tournament was played in South Africa. In the remaining four seasons played in India, it had never gone below 160.
Six days after that Kochi knock in 2011, Sehwag came to the same ground on which he struggled tonight and blasted 119 off 56 to chase down 176 with an over to spare. The next-highest score for Daredevils was James Hopes' 17, showing what kind of support Sehwag had had. "That's the kind of player he is," Hopes had said. "He is as good as it gets in world cricket."
This season, the same player has had one innings of note in half the season. That, too, was not the single-handed demolition Hopes had witnessed, with Jayawardene also making a half-century in a 151-run partnership against Mumbai Indians.
Sehwag is one of the few players who have been with the same franchise since the IPL started. Daredevils have been probably the most excruciatingly inconsistent side in the IPL, finishing top of the table one season and plummeting to the bottom next. But Sehwag's presence has been one constant. In a way, they have ebbed and flowed with Sehwag. He produced five successive fifties in their run to the top of the league stage in 2012. He's dragged them to victory when they have stumbled, inspired them when they have stalled. Precious little of that has happened so far this season, and none of it, even if it happens, will make a difference to Daredevils' prospects now.
This is the same man who once smashed 94 of 41 against Deccan Chargers, again in Hyderabad, to finish a chase with the small matter of seven overs to spare. But it was so far back in time, Glenn McGrath and Mohammad Asif bowled the first seven overs of the game. Those two, for different reasons, belong to an era gone by. So does Sehwag, increasingly so.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo