Batsman working hard behind the scenes June 9, 2007

Sehwag strives to get better

Virender Sehwag has been working hard of late to iron out the flaws in his batting

'Sehwag has also got fitter: he is believed to have lost eight kilos in the past month and a half.' © AFP
The ball left Albie Morkel's hand, hit the deck short of length and leapt up outside the off stump. Virender Sehwag quickly arched back and upper-cut it over the slips. It was a pleasing reminder of what he once did with ease. The next ball offered a sterner test: it was fuller and outside off, the kind of ball to which he has succumbed so often of late. Sehwag's front foot moved swiftly towards the line of the ball to caress it through the off side. The feet were not struck to the crease, the head didn't bob around.

Those two shots, from Wednesday's ODI at Bangalore, and his fluent effort in Saturday's game at Chennai suggested Sehwag had been doing some overtime to iron out his batting flaws. The suspicion was confirmed by AN Sharma, Sehwag's long-time coach in Delhi, who told Cricinfo they had worked on some changes after the ODI series in Bangladesh.

"He was playing a lot of club cricket," Sharma said, "and the days he wasn't he spent 70 minutes at the nets. He was focused and hungry." Sehwag has also got fitter: he is believed to have lost eight kilos in the past month and a half.

In both matches, to be fair, the attack - barring the pacy Morne Morkel - in this series has not been intimidating, but Sehwag's downfall has rarely been the opposition bowlers; most often, the battle has been Sehwag v Sehwag, his inability to correct chronic errors.

And so his 64-minute stay in the middle at Bangalore and the hour he spent in the middle at Chennai offered hope of redemption: his left foot strode forward decisively towards the ball, he left a few deliveries that seamed away from him, and took care to play as close to the body as possible.

What makes it better is that these didn't happen by chance, Sehwag seems to have worked on his batting. "We spent a lot of time in getting him to move towards the ball," Sharma said. "I felt he was hanging back a bit too much and so was feeling for the delivery away from his body. We got him to move forward as much as possible and get close to the delivery. He is good on the back foot anyway so, if the ball is short, he will instinctively shift his weight back."

Another change that was made to the technique was in the grip. "We went back to the basics. He used to have a v-shaped grip on the handle but, somewhere down the line, he had tinkered with the bottom-hand position. We have now gone back to the classic grip and I think that is working."

Sehwag had already made one change before this stint with Sharma: a middle-stump guard. The logic was simple. Now he would be close to the line and so wouldn't have to reach out for deliveries in the corridor of temptation. Simple and effective, but it left him vulnerable to the short ball.

We spent a lot of time in getting him to move towards the ball. I felt he was hanging back a bit too much and so was feeling for the delivery away from his body.

Previously, when he was taking a leg guard, the bowlers had to make an extra effort to direct the deliveries at his body. Bouncers on middle stump or off would be slashed over the slips as Sehwag would lean back, create more width, and help it up and over. Now the target has come straighter, so all the bowler has to do is bang it in short, on the stumps and at his ribs.

The bowlers have already caught on. In the ODI series against Sri Lanka just before the World Cup, Dilhara Fernando got the ball to burst off the pitch and rear up at the throat; all Sehwag could offer was an ugly fend and was swallowed. It will be interesting to see how he copes with that if and when he plays in Tests.

Also, his earlier technique allowed him to stay adjacent to the line of the ball rather than behind it. The lack of footwork - he rarely moved his left foot in the line of the ball - meant he could drill the full-pitched or inswinging deliveries, homing in on the middle or off stump line, straight down the ground or inside-out past mid-off. The new guard will cramp him when he goes for those smooth swings of the bat through the line of the ball as he might be mostly behind the line. So, we might see him playing to the on side more than before.

The changes have brought encouraging results, but other demons resurfaced in both recent games once Sehwag reached his late 30s and started to go hard at every ball. Sharma said they are working on it. "We are getting him spend as much as time as possible in the middle. You can only score if you are out there." Sometimes the obvious is the most difficult to see.

Sriram Veera is an editorial assistant on Cricinfo