Delhi Daredevils v Mumbai Indians, IPL, Centurion May 21, 2009

Sehwag breaks his silence

Finally, as the IPL approached the business end, Virender Sehwag found his form

One of the biggest let-downs of the current IPL had been Virender Sehwag's silence with the bat. Today's dead game was the opportunity to get back into some form before the knock-out stage. Would he be slightly restrained? Or would he be the Sehwag we know? In the end, it was a mixture of the two. It was not a matter of settling down before he got going; that's not in his character. So, while he never tried to go after Harbhajan Singh, he let loose against the likes of Dhawal Kulkarni. It wasn't a free-flowing knock but, by the end, there were signs of his old touch.

His loss of form was belied by the first five balls he faced, which fetched him three boundaries - the highlight being a punchy cover drive. It wasn't a surprise, it was in character. Harbhajan came on immediately after that and another question arose: Would Sehwag go after him? Harbhajan flighted them up and kept them full, inviting the big slog-sweep or the inside-out drive Sehwag is famous for against spinners. Sehwag didn't take the bait; he chose to defend. Only once did he try to back away to cut but inside-edged it away. This was surprising but showcased his desire to hit form before the big games.

There was a moment against Abhishek Nayar that hinted at his problem. In the Sehwag world, problems doesn't translate to being scoreless; he never allows himself to be strangled. Rather it was in the intent to break free with big hits that one spotted the problem. He tried to cart Nayar over cow corner but ended up with a heave, a drag, towards deep midwicket for a single. He was going too hard in his shots and clearly hadn't shaken off the effects of the injury he picked up earlier in the tournament. He stood at the non-striker's end and repeatedly practised his bat swing.

Sehwag carries a perception that he doesn't think too much about his batting. His batting style and, importantly, his aggressive mindset regardless of the situation give off that impression. But the perception couldn't be more wrong. He works hard and long in the nets, though he makes it look like a lark. Sometimes he hums a song while playing the spinners. Almost throughout the session, though, he will ask the bowlers to tell him the simulated field-settings and the match situation and will play according to it. While batting, he says, his mind remains blank. That's not the state of mind of an unthinking cricketer but that of a man extremely keen to stay in the ideal state of mind while preparing to face the ball.

Those are the days and moments when he is really on song. Some days, he has come undone by the tendency to prejudge his shots, especially in limited-overs cricket. His record in Tests is far better than the ODIs. It has been written about before but suffice here to say that this Delhi team, packed with attacking openers like Gambhir and Warner, gives him the breathing space he rarely enjoys in limited overs.

And today he used that space. When he returned to the strike against Nayyar after that iffy moment and the shadow practice he went, almost expectedly, for the same shot. Call it ego, call it confidence, call it being Sehwag; the ball was not even as short as the previous delivery but ended up at cow corner. Exactly where Sehwag wanted. There was a slight swagger as he walked halfway down the track. Sehwag was finding himself.

Later, he turned violent against Jayasuriya with big hits down to the ground and to midwicket and even tried to play the reverse sweep. Harbhajan did him in with a topspinner and Sehwag ended up pushing inside the line but by then he had given his teammates something to cheer about. Later, at the post-match ceremony, he mentioned how happy he was at his return to form. The crowd would be delighted; can't say the same about his semi-final opponents.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo