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Aakash Chopra looks at various aspects of cricket from a player's perspective

Memo to Sehwag

He needs to remember, when he gets to 30 or 40, that he isn't playing like he used to

Aakash Chopra

November 12, 2012

Comments: 43 | Text size: A | A

Virender Sehwag bats at the nets as Gautam Gambhir watches on, Hyderabad, August 21, 2012
A lot of Sehwag's success has been due to the fact that he is honest about his strengths and weaknesses © AFP

What makes Virender Sehwag such a special player? Is it his monk-like stillness at the crease while playing the most outrageous shots that charm and baffle? Or is it his supreme eye-hand coordination, backed by remarkable bat speed, that compels you to marvel at his inimitable flair? All of the above have had a part to play in making Sehwag who he is today, yet it would be unfair not to take into account other, not-so-technical, factors that have contributed to his success.

Let's begin with his game sense. In a Ranji Trophy match against Orissa, played in Delhi, on one of the worst pitches I've played first-class cricket on, I remember Sehwag stepping down the track to a medium-pace bowler, playing a wild slog and missing the ball by at least a foot. Delhi were already one-down for next to nothing and needed to consolidate. I went up to him to persuade him to take it slow, but Sehwag told me that coming down the track and missing the ball by a mile had been a part of a bigger plan. On the damp and green Kotla pitch, it was impossible to put bat to ball when the bowler pitched it up. Since Orissa's bowlers were not budging from that length, he needed to do something extraordinary to make them falter. Just as he anticipated, the next two balls were pitched short. Sehwag obliged by hitting two crisp boundaries.

It was not his skill but his incisive understanding of the game that made him so successful. He always knew how big the windows of opportunity were and capitalised accordingly.

Another fascinating thing about his game is the belief he has in his abilities. While most people tell him to move his feet, get behind the ball, and so on - especially against better bowlers in bowler-friendly conditions - he always sticks to his game plan and his strengths. Where others practised caution, Sehwag saw opportunities. In Chennai in 2004 against Australia, when he went out to bat at the fag end of the day, everyone advised him to show restraint. But he said that since the Aussies would attack him, he could easily pick up a few boundaries. And he did.

He backed himself to beat his opponents at their own game - playing Shane Warne and Muttiah Muralitharan against the spin, for instance. Once Sehwag did that successfully, they played into his hands. By hitting a boundary off a fairly good ball, he forced the bowler to raise the bar and subsequently falter. It isn't a coincidence that he gets more balls pitched on his legs than other openers. Even the best bowlers overdo it when trying to cramp him for room.

Thirdly, he has been successful because of the honesty with which he acknowledges his strengths and weaknesses. After surviving Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie in the first session on a slightly damp pitch in Sydney in 2004, Sehwag confessed how it was brilliant that I took more of the strike against Lee, because he didn't fancy his chances against the moving ball. Not that he wouldn't have survived - a week before that match, he had scored 195 in Melbourne on day one - but he fancied his chances more against Gillespie. He would always gracefully accept what he could do and what he couldn't.

However, things seem to have changed a little bit for Sehwag in the last couple of years. It may have something to do with age, and the eyes losing their sharpness, or the hands not generating the same bat speed anymore. Players who rely on eye-hand coordination find the going tough if things are not in perfect sync.

If that is the case, should Sehwag rebuild his game from scratch and find ways to move his feet more?

Any plan to develop a technical skill that Sehwag did not possess would have meant compromising on his strengths. Unlike other players, the only plan B he has is that of biding time

John Wright, under whom Sehwag blossomed, would perhaps advise against such radical shifts. During his tenure as the India coach, whenever Sehwag went through a lean patch, Wright told him to keep the faith, play to his strengths, and yet be selective. Wright never tinkered with his batting, even when things weren't going right, since Sehwag's strengths are his balance and his hands. Any plan to develop a technical skill that Sehwag did not possess would have meant compromising on his strengths. Unlike other players, the only plan B Sehwag has is that of biding time.

Logically, game sense, once developed, stays with you forever. So that's not what Sehwag is missing. It's evident that his mind is still sharp, as is his self-belief, because he still goes after balls like he did earlier, and he isn't shying away from playing against the spin or from attacking from the outset.

So it's possibly the honesty that has gone missing. While I'm 100% sure that Sehwag acknowledges that of late he hasn't been among the runs, he seems to forget it whenever he gets a start. To me, an opener getting out cheaply is acceptable, because the chances of him getting a good ball early on are higher than for batsmen lower down the order. But not capitalising on a start isn't. And that's what is ailing Sehwag these days. More than the lack of starts, it's that when he reaches 30 or 40, he begins playing like the Sehwag of old, which he isn't at the moment.

The days when he used to hit three boundaries per over for 90 overs can return, but only if he's happy to hit one in two overs for a few consecutive innings. He needs to be ruthlessly honest about his current predicament. That's the only way to get out of it. There's a thin line between having immense belief and becoming arrogant. The moment that line gets blurred, honesty goes out of the window.

It isn't too late for Sehwag to turn it around, and he doesn't need to bat in the middle order to do so. He just needs to find a new process to build an innings, which might be in contrast to how he did it earlier. He doesn't need to rebuild his game from scratch but needs to discover another way of scoring runs. Isn't that a hallmark of all good players?

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by   on (November 14, 2012, 15:21 GMT)

well...akash batted alongside viru..in australia..so of course..he knows viru well..viru is a great cricketer ..no doubt...of course he gets criticism by people who say he is irresponible etc. but still no one ever doubted the man's ability...tomorrow ..there is a big test..if viru fires ..that means indian cricket is safe for next 4 years at least ..hope he does because we do need viru badly... viru..plz fire..it's big time now..

Posted by imluckychamp on (November 14, 2012, 3:10 GMT)

watch out the stars for team India in this series will be sachin and sehwag

Posted by Emancipator007 on (November 13, 2012, 5:12 GMT)

As one poster has mentioned, Viru is OBVIOUSLY having some sort of a confidence issue. And that issue is his captain who is NOT satisfied with the fact that Viru averages 43 under (way above his career av.) his captaincy in ODIs with a 50 plus score every 3rd innings. Regular dropping from shorter formats, snide remarks about "slow seniors" and Viru (EVERY fan in India knows about his simple, uncluttered approach to life and cricket) feels undermined (much like Sreesanth after DECISVELY winning 2 Tests for India in toughest test cauldron-SAfrica). Cricket leadership is about managing your matchwinning assets (which Ganguly and Kumble knew). What I said long ago about Viru NEVER being out of form -otherwise how did he suddenly score that 219 in ODI followed by 67 in 1st innings in Melbourne Test (was recently attested by Mike Hussey and Akram); he just needs management and dare I say it -pampering.

Posted by Emancipator007 on (November 13, 2012, 5:11 GMT)

@itswayuplay:Been seeing a lot of ur scurrilous remarks about Viru's capabilities.Even with his EXTREME high-risk game, he is scoring a 50 every 3 innings in Tests, a 50 every 4.5 innings in ODIs (at that AWESOME SR).Also how is Viru the ONLY Player in history to score 13 plus 50s in calendar year-2010 (ESPN recent stat).This kind of consistency is unprecedented for a strokeplaying opener(converted) in cricket history (as none of Jaya,Haydos,Slats,Gayle have been able to sustain this SR ball 1 till end over so many innings unlike Viru). His lack of runs is SINGULARLY responsible for India not being able to compete in OZ/Eng. In SA 2010 also after 1st innings duck, he scored that blitzing 67 at Centurion to give confidence to India to take on SA & win at Durban.Indian fans can be RABID about their legends (Viru is a ONE-OFF in history).None of Slats,Jaya,Haydos,Gayle(none with comparable records except Haydos) have been slammed so much about their game but respected by their teams/fans.

Posted by BnH1985Fan on (November 13, 2012, 2:53 GMT)

Dear Akash -- I'd word my memo to Sehwag quite simply: Time to hang up, and hang out with me, Dravid, Laxman.

Posted by joshvino on (November 13, 2012, 0:45 GMT)

what the hell did dhoni did in the no.1 journey .he never proved as a individual test player.. in recent 8-0 loss if seniors are the one to blame ..then what did he inspired as captain(seniors have contributed for more than 10 years in every country tour .expect the last 2 tours .. when did Dhoni contributed from his 2005 ....never ...and you wants him as captain.he doesn't even qualify as a test batsman .then comes captaincy).he never played good when we are no.1 team and never inspired when we are losing 8-0..dont forget he was not even in the squad of previous tour(srilanka) before he became captain in 2008 :)..An unqualified test batsman captains the team from 2008.......and u still support him as best player.This is the IPL effect!!(What a joke it is!when seniors perfomed and made India no.1 .the fame went to Dhoni but when dhoni perfomed as poor captain and team flopped seniors got critisised and retired)..

Posted by S.N.Singh on (November 12, 2012, 22:29 GMT)


Posted by Cpt.Meanster on (November 12, 2012, 22:01 GMT)

@RyanHarrisGreatCricketer: Yeah, I am not surprised one bit at your comment on Sehwag, but it's funny it's coming from a person who thinks of Ryan Harris as a great cricketer. If Ryan Harris is great then there is NOTHING wrong in Aakash Chopra calling Sehwag SPECIAL !!

Posted by HyderabadiFlick on (November 12, 2012, 21:49 GMT)

@itsthewayuplay, @GRVJPR, @RyanHarrisGreatCricketer, @ Gaurav Srivastava These are some of the opening batsmen to play for India before Viru...1.Raman, 2.Ramesh 3. Gandhi, 4. Das, 5. Williams, 6.Rathore, 7.Somasundar 8.Jaffar 9. Akash. now, tell me how many people survived all conditions, I bet they have scored less runs collectively than Sehwag as an opener. Sehwag changed the test matches so much that cricket without him is empty. How many players have 2 triples and good number of 200's. Whatever people say Viru is A once in a lifetime phenomenon. If you are so critical about Viru then your comments hold good for Dhoni too. Same people who hate him will eat their words this season. - Jai Hind

Posted by IndCricFan2013 on (November 12, 2012, 21:24 GMT)

Greg Chappel wrote a memo before T20, what happened? Shewag never changes and never will. He can be great master scoring 300's in sub continent, that is the only reason he is on the team, to see if he can still score in India. If he does not do it in the first two tests, then he is going to be gone for ever. But it still does not address the long term issue. I hope he does not score huge and some one else comes in for longer term.

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Aakash ChopraClose
Aakash Chopra Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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