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.