India v Sri Lanka, 2nd Test, Kanpur, 1st day November 24, 2009

A vintage Sehwag innings

Cricinfo staff

There are few batsmen who possess the extra gear that Virender Sehwag does. On the first morning at Green Park, he was initially circumspect, having been dropped off the third ball he faced. There was some early swing for Chanaka Welegedara and there were no wildly adventurous swipes against Angelo Mathews either. Off the first 20 balls that he faced, Sehwag made just four, leaving Gautam Gambhir to keep the scorers busy. From the first 11 overs, India made 31. Hardly slothful, but no run-riot either.

In a trice though, the mood changed. A cover drive and a crunching shot through midwicket off Mathews were a warning sign, and Sri Lankan heads would surely have dropped when he drove the same bowler down the ground twice in his next over. Eye in and feet moving, by Sehwag standards, the spinners then had no chance. In the next 30 overs, 201 runs came in a near-cascade.

Ajantha Mendis, scourge of India in a Test series last year, was thrashed for 35 from 19 balls. Muttiah Muralitharan and Rangana Herath fared little better. If not for a fine catch from Tillakaratne Dilshan, the damage would have been far greater than 417 runs. Having scored 233 from the 41.2 overs that Sehwag spent at the crease, India then managed only another 184 from 48.4 overs. Still great going by Test-match standards, but a near-crawl compared to Sehwag's pace.

It obviously helped to have Gambhir at the other end, enjoying the sort of purple patch that batsmen experience only once or twice in the careers. For most of the morning and afternoon, he matched Sehwag stroke for stroke, throttling back only once the run-rate climbed near to a run a ball.

As with most Sehwag innings, there was no dearth of the audacious. Herath was clubbed to the midwicket boundary even when he pitched well outside off stump, and Mendis found one sailing well over the man at long-on. The old cliches about giving the first hour to the bowler and battening down the hatches when in sight of an interval are all humbug as far as he's concerned.

By Sehwag's standards, the past 18 months had been lean ones. Though he never struggled to the extent that his place in the side was questioned, the big booming centuries that had marked him out as a new-ball bowler's worst nightmare were conspicuous by their absence. This was his first three-figure knock after that dazzling unbeaten 201 in Galle, though it would be foolish in the extreme to judge him by weight of hundreds alone.

There would have no dramatic final-day victory for a grieving nation to celebrate in Chennai last December if not for his breathtaking 68-ball 83 on the penultimate evening. He also contributed 90s to both Indian victories over Australia. But the defining innings, the full-day flail that had so enervated the South Africans [Chennai] and the Pakistanis [Multan and Lahore, to pick out just two] was missing.

That came as a surprise to many. Though his reputation may be that of a dasher, there have been few batsmen in the history of the game as adept as Sehwag when it comes to building on a start. Before his dismissal for 131 today, his previous 11 centuries had all been scores in excess of 150. And while the impetuous swipe at the MCG in 2003 when on 195 is still remembered by many, he plays according to the situation far more often than people give him credit for.

In that context, his match-saving innings in Adelaide just under two years ago probably has pride of place. Having just negotiated a path back into the XI, it was a big match for Sehwag. And after scoring big in the first innings, India were in real danger of defeat on the final day. But Sehwag knuckled down to play what was, for him, a sedate innings. By the time he departed, after 151 from 236 balls, the game was safe.

His strike-rate that day was 63.98, and no other figure tells you as much about the man. Consider the other aggressive opening batsmen of the age. Chris Gayle scores his runs at 57.46 per hundred balls, Andrew Strauss at 49.49. For Matthew Hayden, who loved nothing more than to dominate the bowlers, the figure was 60.10. For Graeme Smith, the number is 61.2. Sanath Jayasuriya's was 65. And Sehwag? A staggering 79.26.

To put that into perspective, just compare him to Adam Gilchrist, widely accepted as the most destructive batsman of this era. Gilchrist never had to confront early swing or seam movement, and he could often take toll of attacks demoralised by those that had gone before. Yet, his strike-rate (81.95) is only marginally better than Sehwag's.

It's too early to pass judgement on this pitch, but Sri Lanka will rue that Prasanna Jayawardene dive across first slip in the day's opening over, and also the lack of discipline from the bowlers, who bowled far too many deliveries on the batsmen's pads and wide of off stump. The gains of the Motera have been wiped out in the space of three sessions and the next four days could be one long haul to safety. They can console themselves only with the thought that they aren't the first team to suffer so at Sehwag's hands. And they certainly won't be the last.

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Karthik on November 25, 2009, 13:37 GMT

    Sehwag is one person, other teams would love to clinch from India.We would all have known the pain he causes to bowlers if he played for some other team.We should be thankful to him for he made us see an Indian's name in 300 run maker's list.when he was on song India won 6-0 v/s england, 4-1 v/s Srilanka n New Zealand.And when he is off-colour for 1 series , they all start talking about his consistency and other rubbish.Imagining India opening without Sehwag for now is impossible for me.Hats-off VIRU- real daredevil.

  • Deenesh on November 25, 2009, 3:13 GMT

    Sehwag should get more hundreds. His value is more potential than anything else. Consistency is the key to success, without it, india cannot hope to win world cups.

  • Anand on November 25, 2009, 2:01 GMT

    no words are enough, no adjectives good enough to describe and praise the greatest Indian match winner and by far the most selfless cricketer in the world. A true champion and a team man, Sehwag glides at a level where no mortals can reach. Among the few batsmen with an uncluttered mind, Sehwag has reached all those milestones where no other indian batsman could reach. He may not be revered as much as Sachin, but he certainly isn't any less precious to the nation.

  • Nishath on November 24, 2009, 19:36 GMT

    Once again Sehwag proves his class. Like Kirsten mentioned. whenever he performs we accept it graciously and I think India are in fact are blessed to have him. Every batsman has one good innings followed by a poor innings. That good innings for sehwag more often than not makes up for that poor innings. Truly remarkable feat this. Also equal credit must be given to Gambhir for playing the way he has, competing against the sehwag would alone bring the best out of most batsman and that's exactly what we are seeing here.

  • Rajkumar on November 24, 2009, 19:30 GMT

    It was a flat batting pitch...I don't understand what was so vintage about Sehwag's batting. The way Indian cricket pitches are being prepared it won't be much longer when the Indians have to call a RIP on test match cricket.

  • Sridhar on November 24, 2009, 17:54 GMT

    When i saw Sehwag playing watchfull initally, i expected a big one from him and he has done it again. He is on song, when he gets going not even kumble can stop him though both has not played much against each other.

  • Alex on November 24, 2009, 17:23 GMT

    Sehwag innning today was totally awsome. He was struggling in the first hour. Once he saw spinner and treated them as slow ball bowlers and smacked them and made them his biatches.

    Sehwagology still rules. Sachin will go for his century tomorrow to create big gap between ponting and him and hope ponting gets injured and retired.

    if sehwag got out , srilankan 3 spin trio would have choked indian batsman. That is what happen when you let go off sehwag freebies.

    Now even sachin eyeing for century and no need to beg sangakkara this time.

  • Siddharth on November 24, 2009, 16:37 GMT

    Sehwag is really something else! No one like him in the entire cricketing world! If he could just be a little more precise with his shot making, specially in the ODI's, he really is unstoppable. In Yuvraj and Sehwag we have 2 of the most destructive batsmen to have ever picked up a bat. Good on Gambhir, and really glad to see Dravid playing so well!

  • dhirendra on November 24, 2009, 16:27 GMT

    Sehwag is the X factor in the Indian team whose potential can never be completely utilized. In some cases, Sehwag tries to defy the bowlers without considering the conditions and gets out cheaply in a awkward fashion. Thats when Gambhir comes into play. I think Gambhir at the other end played a crucial role in making Sehwag relax during the trying moments of the first hour today. They need each other to give mental strength and support when attacked / beaten by a dangerous bowler(s) and they share the cake (opposition bowlers) gleefully like two twins celebrating their birthday with same cake and leave the opposition in crumbs. Only in the presence of Gambhir does Sehwag control his game best and atleast 70% can be realized with least effort. So, it time they start opening for India regularly in ODIs also.

  • dhirendra on November 24, 2009, 16:10 GMT

    India is lucky to have such complementing players as openers. This augurs well for the future batting line-up in Tests in the absence of Dravid, Tendulkar and VVS; But it is time for the Team management to realize the multi-fold strenght of Gambhir-Sehwag pair and should seriously consider making this pair as the openers for ALL ODIs considering they are match-fit. It is obvious that Sehwag and Gambhir always put the Team first when they are together. 'Great' player like Sachin should sacrifice a few ODI centuries and come at No:3 instead if his really craves to win the 2011 World Cup for India before he retires.(Actually it's Sachin who should understand and make this possible as nothing can be done by Team Management against his wish). As a 'Great' player he should take-up the challenge of batting between 20-40 overs rather than making silly centuries during Power Play overs.

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