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Sidharth Monga in Hamilton
March 11, 2009
Only Virender Sehwag can say that he felt sorry for the bowlers, without sounding arrogant when he says it. The arrogance is limited to the time he spends on the field with bat in hand, and he showed plenty of that against New Zealand at Seddon Park today.
It's almost like Roger Federer wearing a champion's jacket especially made for him by Nike, while walking out onto the centre court at Wimbledon. Anybody other than Federer would seem ridiculous in that. Anybody other than Sehwag would have sounded absurdly pompous saying that he left the bowlers helpless.
"The wickets are good to bat on, and it's very tough for them to stop me," Sehwag said. "They are bowling into my body, and I'm playing my hook and flick shots to get boundaries. There is no other [effective] way they can bowl to me."
Imagine being a bowler. Check your limitations first: you can't hit 140kmph regularly, you don't have any help from the pitches, and the grounds are small. You start off with what you think is the best theoretical way to bowl to Sehwag: short and into the body. Sehwag clears his front leg, and pulls it ferociously into the stands over midwicket, sometimes from chest-high.
"I played some good shots, especially the hook and pull shots, which I never expected from myself on these tracks," he said. "I don't know how it comes or where it comes from, but I managed to hit the [short] ball."
So you try and bowl fuller, looking for some swing. If you are Iain O'Brien bowling your first over in your comeback match, you almost get badly injured - the ball whizzes past your ear for four. If you are Kyle Mills and you manage a perfect short-of-driving length and get some shape away, the bat faces opens a bit and the ball flies over extra cover. If you are Ewen Thompson, making your debut, and dibbly-dobblying onto Sehwag's pads, you get flicked over midwicket and then turned fine of fine leg. The backlift is high, the swing downwards clean and fast, and the ball makes its own way on the field.
So you try and slow things down. If you are Daniel Vettori, the canniest left-arm spinner in the world, you get some respect, and even get a forward defensive stroke. But soon enough Sehwag jumps down the track, is beaten in the flight, but still lofts you over long-off to get to his century. And later he says: "That was a mistimed six, the only mis-hit."
Sehwag also admitted to edging a ball after reaching his century, that was dropped by wicketkeeper Peter McGlashan. "Before the 100 there was no chance for any bowler."
As a unit, you have what you think is a good plan - to not give Sehwag any width outside off. And you succeed, which shows how only six runs came behind square on the offside. But what you think is a weakness is not a frailty after all.
The biggest part of Sehwag's resurrection after being dropped from the 2007 World Cup squad has been his improved on-side play. The flicks during his hundred on Test debut in Bloemfontein are back. He has been hooking and pulling murderously. As a result you end up bowling a grand total of 20 dot balls to him.
It's obvious the opposition shoulders will droop. But that's not new for Sehwag. "I have felt it a couple of times against Australia and South Africa, and against England also," he says. "So it happens."
Just that it happens more often when Sehwag is batting. This is not the first time that it has been on display during this tour. But in the Twenty20s it happened for too brief a while. In the first two ODIs, when he scored match-winning half-centuries, he left the job unfinished. Today he finished his business, and because he came out unbeaten, he rated this as one of his best innings.
Sehwag's batting philosophy comes through from one of his old advertisements, where he professes, "The ball is supposed to live outside the boundary, send it there." It is a simple thought that he goes about implementing in his own inimitable way. Just like he hits what he sees, he tells what he sees.
He spoke what he saw today, and it didn't sound boisterous. He spoke plain facts. You indeed felt sorry for the bowlers (except that they watched the spectacle from the best seat). They were indeed helpless and they didn't know any effective way of bowling to him. On some days you just can't do anything, except live with it.
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