India v England, 1st Test, Chennai, 4th day December 14, 2008

Inimitable Sehwag continues to astonish

S Aga

Virender Sehwag's amazing onslaught revived India's chances © AFP

At the press conference after the day's play, Andrew Strauss spoke of a stroke that Virender Sehwag had played off Jimmy Anderson. The ball had pitched on off stump, but Sehwag had run it off the face of the bat between first and third slip. "There's not a lot you can do about that," Strauss said with a shrug. Fortunately for England, the Sehwag conundrum won't tax them on the final day, but there's a real possibility that the two hours of mayhem he unleashed might have transformed this game.

The shot Strauss described wasn't even the most extraordinary Sehwag played. When Andrew Flintoff returned to bowl from the Pavilion end, he pitched one on a good length in the off-stump corridor. Sehwag rocked back and bunted the ball into the ground short of the slips. It looped over them and sped to the rope, bringing up India's 100 in just 18 overs. Ridiculous.

Nothing's more fascinating than comparing how two people view the same event. When asked about his 68-ball 83, Sehwag suggested that he hadn't done anything differently. "It was my normal batting and I was not going after any particular player," he said. "They were giving me width for the cut and I just played my shots."

Strauss saw it very differently. "He plays a game most people are unfamiliar with," he said, with something approaching amazement. "He almost manipulates the field. You change it, and it's like he says: 'Right, I'm going to hit it somewhere else now'."

At times on Sunday afternoon, his execution was impeccable. A full toss from Monty Panesar was clipped through midwicket so precisely that the fieldsmen running across the rope met each other just as the ball squeezed past them and over. There were certainly echoes of Sachin Tendulkar and the flurry of shots that he unleashed against Pakistan once his back started to give way during that ultimately heartbreaking game in 1999.

The motif of Sehwag's game is its simplicity, and those that reckon he has a wind-tunnel between his ears probably have simple minds. To compare him with the various crude sloggers that the game has seen is also woefully inaccurate. You don't score a century every four Tests that way, and you certainly don't do it across the variety of venues that Sehwag has.

Apart from the Jayasuriya-like flail over third man, there's little unorthodox about his batting. He keeps his head beautifully still and plays the drive as fluently as he does the cut. And as he pointed out himself, it's a fallacy that he operates only at one tempo. "In Adelaide, I had played a full session without scoring a boundary and saved the game for India," he said, speaking of the remarkable innings that kept Australia at bay last January. "I can change my game to suit the conditions but today, the demand was there. I had to play aggressive shots, especially against the fast bowlers."

Few teams, except those in baggy green, would seriously consider a tilt at 387 in 126 overs, on a pitch where the ball is turning sharply. To not give it a go though is anathema to the Sehwag way. The mantra is so simple. "If it's there to be hit, hit it." When you have such hand-eye co-ordination, it's as easily done as it is said.

To compare him with the various crude sloggers that the game has seen is woefully inaccurate. You don't score a century every four Tests that way, and you certainly don't do it across the variety of venues that Sehwag has

By the time he was dismissed, some of us were already looking at the scorecard for Lord's in 1984, when West Indies chased down 342 in 66.1 overs. Gordon Greenidge made 214 from 241 balls that day, though Vic Marks, the Observer correspondent who played in that era, said: "Even Gordon can't have started off like that!"

For India to win from here - and thanks to Sehwag it has become a real possibility - the rest of the batting line-up must think in the same positive fashion. Sehwag's prescription for success was as uncomplicated as his batsmanship. "We need to bat for another 90 overs," he said. "If we bat 90 overs, we can score 250 or 260 runs. The wicket is still good to bat on. If you settle down, you can score runs."

What India can't afford is a repeat of the all-fall-down-after-Sehwag mentality that cost them a Test match against Pakistan in Bangalore three years ago. By staying true to his character and trusting his natural instincts, he has given India an outstanding chance of winning a game that appeared to have drifted far out of reach on Sunday morning. His team-mates must now ensure that their minds aren't cluttered with doubt, their feet paralysed by indecision and their bats stilled by fear. Then again, they aren't Sehwag. He's inimitable, and one of a very special kind.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Rangan on December 16, 2008, 2:01 GMT

    I have always wondered if opposing teams are hesitant to declare and offer India a sporting target in the 4th innings of a test match primarily due to the presence of Virender Sehwag. That he is capable of a whirlwind innings is in no doubt as we have seen scores of more than 200 being scored at more than a run a ball. I again felt that England were 'scared' of a Sehwag performance and hence delayed their declaration. I think Sehwag has proved their fears well-grounded. No opposing team will ever take a declaration against India lightly in future if Sehwag is going to open the innings.

  • Suraj on December 16, 2008, 1:41 GMT

    great player . when he starts to hit it dosen't whose bowling the ball ends up on the boundary. Sehwag rocks!!!!!!!!

  • John on December 15, 2008, 22:58 GMT

    Again, Sehwag has turned a game for India. When he retires, he'll look back on this innings as one of his best, perhaps even matching his triple century and many of his swashbuckling hundreds. This guy is one of the best things that has happened to Test cricket - he puts bums on seats and if and when he gets going, he's always a chance to do what he did in this Test. And for India's - and cricket's - sake, that's truly a great thing. Also, great innings from Yuvraj and Sachin (yet again). As someone said in a different article, this innings could be just the jump-start Yuvraj needs, especially in Test cricket.

  • Sony on December 15, 2008, 13:17 GMT

    Its seems like a long time ago since Sehwag was not even selected in the list of thirty probables for the Australian tour. Thanks to Ian Chappell for making the selectors reconsider Sehwag's inclusion after we lost the first two tests in the Australian tour. Today an Indian team without him at the top is unimaginable. If England could get Sehwag cheaply yesterday, India would have played for a draw and then the visitors could have tried to tighten the screws and in all probability, they would have won the test.

  • Anoop on December 15, 2008, 6:43 GMT

    There is something fearsome about players like Sehwag. Completely agree with the comment about comparison with crude sloggers being out of place. I'd blogged, titled "Assault and Battery" on about my top 10 list of most fearsome players a while ago. Haven't submitted the complete link here because the moderator tends to not post the comment.

  • Sumeet on December 15, 2008, 6:33 GMT

    What do we say about this magnificent player? A true world class batsman India has had after Sachin (with due respect to Dravid and Laxman). He has given more than a chance to India to script a famous win. This guy continues to amaze and has made test cricket a less complicated game than is being made by the pundits. Yes, he frustrates at times, like he did in the 1st innings here. But then, if he gives me a start like this every 3rd innings, I'll be more than happy. As I write this, Sachin and Laxman are at crease and India needs another 180 odd runs in 2 sessions. Though my money's still on England, it has been a fantastic game. I hope we do not repeat a Sydney 2008 here, when last 3-4 wickets fell quickly. God forbid, we should not reach such a stage.

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