August 6, 2010

Gavaskar v Sehwag

What if two greats of Indian cricket were to bat together? One thing is for sure: they'd do things their way

I know it isn't possible, but what the hell, we think about it all the time. We try and compare players from different generations, and while that is not just unfair but impossible to do, I have been spending a lot of time (an advantage of being on one flight too many) thinking of what it would be to watch Sunil Gavaskar and Virender Sehwag, the two Indian opening batsmen at either end of my cricket-watching interval, bat together.

For starters, both would enjoy it. Gavaskar has always said that his bread-and-butter shot was the single, and he could take it almost as a ticket to the show at the other end. And Sehwag could see the powerful cocoon Gavaskar built around himself, so single-minded was he in constructing an innings.

But even more fascinating would be to see the difference in style. Gavaskar was the classical old-school batsman, body right behind the line of the ball, bat straight as a well-constructed wall (Rahul Dravid was version 2.0). One of the great joys of watching cricket for us was to see Gavaskar up on his toes, eyes like an assassin's, never wavering from the object of attention, meeting with his bat a ball projected at his throat, letting it dribble meekly down its face, now devoid of any potency, and fall dead by his toes. Gavaskar played some of the most attractive shots you will see - the straight drive was for posterity - but the way he neutralised the venom of a bouncer defined him for me.

To Gavaskar, and indeed to many of his generation, the wicket was a citadel that could not be breached. It had to be protected like a family heirloom. When you were sure it was safe, you played the bold shot. But you were not encouraged to hit in the air, and if you were stumped by a yard trying to hit a six when on 99, you were probably made to stand in a corner.

But when Sehwag does it, it doesn't evoke howls of protest. Sehwag is the warrior who must conquer many lands and only then return home for a meal. If he cannot attack, if the bowler's offering is so compact that shot-making is not an option, only then will he defend. There are no heirlooms any more. If you lose a BlackBerry, you buy another. Or if you think blue looks cool, you buy another. Occasionally in trying to spear the opponent you leave a flank open and pay for it, but that is just one of the hurdles of doing a job.

And so Sehwag, such a product of this generation, must play beside the line rather than classically behind it. The feet provide support to the body but don't have a huge role to play in shot-making. You let the ball draw alongside and then, with the space you now possess, you either slice it to bits or smite it to the boundary. It is an altogether more violent form of batting. If Sehwag got behind the line of the ball, like he sometimes does when it is too straight, he wouldn't have the space or the freedom to play his way.

The Gavaskar approach was maddening to a bowler. Robin Jackman once told me of how Gavaskar didn't let him see the off stump for an entire spell. "He made me bowl where he wanted me to bowl rather than where I wanted to bowl," he said. The Sehwag approach is to put fear in a bowler's mind. "He must know when he is running in that if he bowls a bad ball, Sehwag will hit it for four," he once said. Just as a bowler can induce a tense batsman to play a bad shot, so too can Sehwag force an uncertain bowler to bowl a bad ball.

With Sehwag you have fear and hope, with Gavaskar it was like hitting your head on a rock at the sheer futility of bowling. Gavaskar would never have got stumped on 99, and he wouldn't have tried to hit a six on 195 either. Two different styles you could not hope to see in a lifetime. But at the corresponding points in their career (79 Tests each), a mere 88 runs separate them. The difference in batting average is but 0.68.

Eventually, therefore, it is about doing things as you know best; as two brilliant cricketers 30 years apart have shown.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on August 9, 2010, 18:36 GMT

    yr assasment is vry good .both are great but gavaskar is don bradman is of idia cricket he install cofidence in coming generation by taking sigle handedly on great westendies sides.He is also voice of indian cricket.he raise his voice during 2008 sydney test for india.for this auusies insulted him by not asking him to present at podium during distribution of gavaskar border trophy,its only pity on australian.he is grest legend in indian mind will remain so cricket will going to played on this earth.

  • Rajesh on August 9, 2010, 15:03 GMT

    Prasad- No wonder Dravid has still not got his due in Indian Cricket. We are looking at the entertainment value in Test Cricket rather than the " test" of cricketing skills. From what you say, Lalit Modis glitz and glamour tamasha is more suited for you. Iam sure you will get plenty of what you want there.

  • Rajesh on August 9, 2010, 14:03 GMT

    Prasad- No wonder Dravid has still not got his due in Indian Cricket. We are looking at the entertainment value in Test Cricket rather than the " test" of cricketing skills. From what you say, Lalit Modis glitz and glamour tamasha is more suited for you. Iam sure you will get plenty of what you want there.

  • Kaze on August 9, 2010, 12:51 GMT

    To compare these two is like comparing chalk and cheese. If you look at Sehwags' record against McGrath you will see he failed miserably. He was dismissed 4 times in 5 Tests for an average of 8.50 (;opposition=2;template=results;type=batting;view=bowler_summary) very similar for Steyn as well. Sehwag never faced Ambrose in Tests and I really wouldn't back him to even average 10 against the fast bowlers that Gavaskar faced. He slashes too much on off stump, which is fine on the subcontinent by elsewhere with a bit more bounce and it's slip catching practice.

  • Dummy4 on August 9, 2010, 12:36 GMT

    Indian score at the end of the first day will be 300 for no loss with Sehwag on 290 from 200 balls and Gavaskar on 10 from 340 balls.

  • Rajesh on August 9, 2010, 11:20 GMT

    Abhishek- For God's sake dont make such sweeping statements. This is the kind of stand that kills sports in India. We did the same to number of sports person like Jaspal Rana, Narain Karthikeyan, Sania Mirza etc and by the the time this got to their head, they we no were in the scene. Yes- Sehwag can claim the greatness which you are now bestowing on him if he continues to perform in the same manner in the next 70 tests as he has done in his first 70 or 80 tests. Harsha must be having a good laugh at all our comparision Viv vs Lara, Viv vs Sunny, Sunny vs Sehwag, Tendulkar vs all of them etc. Its just good time pass and nothing else.@ sports scientist- you are right- most people do like sportsmen more from the heart and not from the head- thats why a Sania Mirza in her designer dress and awful tennis gets more fans than the world beater Siana Nehwal does. We cant help that can we?

  • Dummy4 on August 9, 2010, 5:35 GMT

    To say the least, Sehwag is the greatest batsman ever after Bradman.

  • Rajesh on August 9, 2010, 4:58 GMT

    Sports Scientist- Now I get your point. There again I beg to differ. You cant compare Viv to Lara and vice versa. Its not Lara's fault that he played in the helmet area or in an era where the quality of fast bowling was not that great.However remember that Lara had to negotiate better quality spin than Sir Viv had to.By the time Viv was in his prime, the Indian quatret was in their last phase of their career. Lara has done all that he could to be counted among the best batsmen the game will ever see. @ Suresh Lalvani- You have hit the nail on its head. Having come from Gary's mouth, will anybody very dispute it. Yes- Imran still can if he wishes to!!!!!!

  • Amir on August 9, 2010, 4:14 GMT

    @cantwaittosee.. although Gav was a player of his time but comparing his last innings as a dream come true specially for legends as Bradman, Lara or even Tendulkar is like comparing apple to oranges. india also lost that game by 16 runs.. i would personally rather rate Tendulkar or Lara as the living legends of cricket due to their entrenched performance in conditions where bowling attack is evolved from conventional to rather contemporary i.e. reverse swing,doosra etc..

  • Dummy4 on August 8, 2010, 14:04 GMT

    If Both Bat Together, It Will Give An End To Boring Test. Most Of Time The Opposition Team Will Get Tired When They Bowl To Both.

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