India tour of South Africa 2010-11 December 15, 2010

The Gamechangers

A marquee series needs a marquee contest, a main event, the headliner. This Test series between the two top teams features two of the most joyful cricketers in the world

When MS Dhoni was asked at the pre-match press conference in Johannesburg how Virender Sehwag was dealing with the pressure of being the centre of conversation surrounding the series, he replied, "He doesn't take the pressure. That's the best part."

Dhoni wouldn't have known that around the same time the man himself was sitting coolly in a corner of the food court of the huge shopping mall - a world in itself - that is Sandton City. You wouldn't even have noticed Sehwag but for the larger presence of Ishant Sharma, and the smaller one of Gautam Gambhir, around him. Just another small group in a crowd of small groups. If you were looking for the man everyone was talking about, Sehwag didn't look like that man. If you were looking for the man thought to be the key for India in the three-Test series, Sehwag didn't look like that man either.

"You can have only one Sehwag," Dhoni said. "That's the beauty of his game. Whatever comes his way he will play according to the merit of the delivery. That's what his strength is."

Perhaps Dhoni has got it wrong there. The concept of the merit of the delivery is quite different in Sehwag's world. After scoring close to a triple-century in one day against Sri Lanka last year, he had this to say: "In the dressing room they told me I was hitting the good balls too, but if you look at it my way, I hit only the bad ones." That's why Sehwag is so important to India. They need him to redefine good balls and bad balls in testing conditions. They need to see him hit the South Africa bowlers for boundaries before the rest of the batsmen come in to bat. They need to be shown these conditions are manageable.


If you were looking for the other most talked-about man going in to the series, it would be the man bursting through the crease at the South Africa nets about 40km north of Johannesburg. If you were looking for the other most exciting cricketer in the world, Dale Steyn was definitely your man.

While Sehwag took it easy, Steyn spent the day working hard on the strip next to the greenish Test pitch at SuperSport Park in Centurion. You could sense he is hurting from the three centuries Sehwag has scored against attacks led by him, one of those a triple. Never mind that he has got Sehwag out four times to even the scales. You could sense he is waiting, confident in the knowledge that what Sehwag did was in his home environment. If Steyn was the underdog in all five Tests in India, Sehwag, with an average of 26 in South Africa, has some proving to do.

Steyn knows the new ball will remain effective for much longer than it does in India. Steyn knows the short ones will consistently bounce into the chest area, and not sit up for easy whips or pulls. Mind you, they didn't look easy for the other batsmen even when Steyn bowled in India.


Steyn to Sehwag in seven Tests: 166 deliveries, 159 runs, four dismissals. It is pure, unadulterated, uninhibited action when Steyn bowls to Sehwag. There is something very compelling about watching both these men perform. Steyn looks to take a wicket with every delivery he bowls, Sehwag looks to score off everything he faces.

At the heart lie their simple, uncomplicated games. Sehwag's is perhaps the most uncluttered mind in the cricketing world, Steyn's the most uncluttered action. Sehwag has minimised his foot-, body- and head-movement as he prepares to face the bowler. Steyn generates great amounts of pace from a 15-step run-up. It is that final moment that becomes the most exciting: Sehwag's meeting the ball, Steyn's rushing through the crease. Then boom. The shots go hurtling across the outfield, the deliveries swing away at high pace.

The respective head and the wrist always remain stable. Steyn will charge in for at least three spells a day all through the series; Sehwag will want to last a day each with his innings all through the series. Between them the two will decide who has the momentum. If Steyn gets Sehwag in the first spell, it will invariably demoralise India; if Sehwag is there to face Steyn's last spell of the day, it will invariably have been India's day.

They might be opening batsman and opening bowler, yet they operate similarly. They reduce potentially complicated arts to their very basics. Here's hoping that the weather and the toss don't conspire to delay what we have all been waiting for from the time Sehwag flayed Steyn all over the Eden Gardens in February: the most exciting bowler in the world bowling to the most exciting batsman, this time in the bowler's backyard.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Manoj on December 17, 2010, 7:12 GMT

    to BrianCharlesVivek:::::SEHWAG played 28 tests out of 84 tests out of asia,,,,and so his runs out of asia will be obviously less than the runs scored in asia,,,,there is a lot of cricket remained in the series,,,,just 1st day of series on a damp&uneven bouncy pitch,,,,,if it were SA batsman,they might have struggle even moreeeee,,,,,,wait& see the Sehwag-SA bowlers rivalry,,,,DECIDE ONLY AFTER THE SERIES COMPLETION

  • Dre on December 16, 2010, 17:21 GMT

    First blood Dale Steyn, the undisputed best bowler today.

  • Vivek on December 16, 2010, 16:00 GMT

    Remember this is not the flat tracks of India where the ball doesnt rise above waist. Sehwag scored aorund 5000 of his total 7000 runs within ASIA. He and Raina are any days flat track bullies.

  • Kean on December 16, 2010, 15:20 GMT

    Steyn 1 - Sehwag 0. There is still a lot of cricket to come and this is far from over but perhaps all this will put an end to all the Indian fan hype and posturing. As I type there is an Indian collapse occurring, so much for the GREATEST BATTING LINE-UP. Again this is only the first day of three tests - so much room for the tables to turn but again a good reminder for the Indian fans to not boast too load before the job is done.

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2010, 15:08 GMT

    Sehwag gone for duck today. I am Sehwag fan, well done Dale and SA. Only one regret, why Dhoni always lost the important toss. I never want to see India batting first in the first match of series in overseas tours.

  • Dummy4 on December 16, 2010, 14:41 GMT

    I knew the going would be tough for India. However I had hopes since India had won a Test last time with the worst preparation possible and this time they had prepared well. But SA is a top team ; they have improved a lot since 2006 and are more deserving of the no.1 rank. India has not played a single Test overseas after reaching no.1 till now. Gambhir ,Raina and Dhoni are weak links. Sehwag,Dravid have gone. Sehwag the aggressor and Dravid the man to rescue India from an early collapse. Now only Tendulkar and Laxman can rescue India. Rankings can cause a lot of emotions and hype but in the end they do not mean much.SA have proved that.India with no.1 ranking but underdogs according to Siddharth Monga. How true. In Joburg 2006 we had a decent start and hence managed to reach a fighting total of 249 but 27/3 is parlous. Quite a few people here commented that India should win the series just because they are no.1 How wrong they were.

  • JustOUT on December 16, 2010, 14:24 GMT

    well.. Steyn 1 -0 Sehwag.. :)

  • Graham on December 16, 2010, 13:12 GMT

    Steyn 1, Sehwag 0.

    Sign of things to come, I think.

  • Manoj on December 16, 2010, 12:51 GMT

    WITH REFERENCE TO ALL::::::Sehwag failed in last series in SA 2006-07,,yes i agree..but,,,that was the time wer he is in lean pace of his carrer loosing form ,,,also,,,the then coach completely mislead sehwag's mind set at that time,,,,plz just dont decide his performance on basis of that 2006-07 IND-SA series performance,

  • HARSHAL on December 16, 2010, 11:42 GMT

    all talks bout rain, sehwag, steyn, pitches .m glad tat sachin is staying away from the limelight of all commentators, fans.. etc. m sure once he gets his 50th ton, no comment over here or anywhere will be without him

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