Sri Lanka v India, 1st Test, Galle, 4th day July 21, 2010

When defensive is offensive

Virender Sehwag has eliminated many weaknesses from his batting. But the most innocuous of weaknesses, getting out to defensive fields, stays

Virender Sehwag doesn't like negative bowling. He gets irritated, he loses patience. The thing is, opposition captains know it, which is why it ceases to be negative bowling. Third man and sweeper-cover become catching positions, wide deliveries outside off are wicket-taking ones. And when he gets out that way, it is forgotten how well he played until then.

It happened in Nagpur before Dale Steyn demolished India. A similar collapse followed here in Galle. Of course it doesn't absolve others of their share of blame, but Sehwag would be the one kicking himself the most. Then again, knowing Sehwag, whose biggest strength is to stop thinking of a bad shot or a good ball as soon as it has happened, maybe not.

Nagpur isn't the only example, but the similarities are palpable. His scores in the respective matches, just to drive home the point, were identical - 109. Then he had played a beautifully lone hand, 109 out of the 192 that came while he was at the crease. That century, despite his strike-rate of 78.41, was a watchful innings.

In his first over of a new spell, Wayne Parnell bowled full and wide outside off, with three men on the off-side boundary. Sehwag hit through those three men for two fours, one was a wide that went for four. Still he couldn't hold himself, chasing a delivery that was too wide of him, and sliced it to sweeper-cover.

In Galle, Sehwag was again the lone hand, batting watchfully but still quick, scoring 109 out of 169. During the course of his innings, a healthy part of which was played in the dying hours of the third day, his back trouble threatened to reappear, Lasith Malinga aimed for his toes and ribs, and Muttiah Muralitharan bowled menacing offbreaks and doosras.

Yorkers he kept out, bouncers he kept down, doosras he read well, any slight error from either of the bowlers he smacked for fours. He also resisted his own theory that when the teams are trying to attack in the final few minutes of the day, it is the best time to get 30 quick runs.

On the fourth morning he started as if he had never stopped. Another left-arm bowler, Chanaka Welegedara, started bowling innocuously wide outside off with three men patrolling the boundary. Sehwag still beat them. He reached his century with hardly any fuss at all. Welegedara changed ends. Third man, deep point and sweeper-cover waited. He bowled a no-ball, then a wide, and was cut along the ground for one.

In the next over, Sehwag played a lovely push-drive through extra cover, off Malinga who attacked much more conventionally. It was the bowler attacking him by not attacking him, though, who was playing on Sehwag's psyche, annoying him, irritating him. Off the second ball of the next over by Welegedara, Kumar Sangakkara joined other captains who have got Sehwag out this way. It was short, it was wide, in fact it would have been called a wide had Sehwag not tried to hit over deep point. The ball tailed away, hit the toe end of the bat and settled at slip. Another collapse followed.

Over the last few years, Sehwag has eliminated many weaknesses from his batting. The short ball into the ribs doesn't bother him now. He is not so loose outside off anymore. This most innocuous of weaknesses, though, stays. In Napier in 2008-09, he fell twice to spinners bowling with defensive fields in their early overs.

Most of the bowlers in the world say you cannot wait for Sehwag to make mistakes, for by the time he does make a mistake it is often too late. But as soon as he starts making a mockery out of the aggressive fields, they fall back, waiting for, well, a mistake. They do so because Sehwag does make those errors when he has all the bowlers at his mercy.

In Mumbai last year against these opponents, even in the first session of India's batting, Murali started off with deep fields. Sehwag went over extra cover, he reverse-swept, he cleared the deep fielders, and he thus gave India enough time to force a win. In Galle, though, with India 351 behind and a day lost to rain, it wasn't as if India could win the match through quick runs.

Still, though Sehwag left the job unfinished, his shot doesn't explain Rahul Dravid's running, Sachin Tendulkar's error of judgement, VVS Laxman's limp hook, or Harbhajan Singh's waft in the last over before lunch. They will all soon get a second chance. And if Sehwag gets off to a start, Sri Lanka will bowl with similar "attacking" fields. It will be interesting to see how Sehwag responds.

This piece was published at the innings break

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • V.L on July 22, 2010, 6:41 GMT

    To all Sri lankan fans. Beware! This match is not yet over! India lead by 48 and the tail enders are playing like tigers. If they can hang till tea then its gonna be a certain draw!

  • Cricinfouser on July 22, 2010, 3:41 GMT

    @Bang_la : cricket ranking are not derived based on the performance from 1932... its based on RECENT performance of a team..... and i dont know about you but in a common man's world, 1932 is not recent times. by your logic, no team would be no 1 EVER as no team has stayed on top for EVER..... AUS replaced WI, stayed on top for long but eventually got replaced by IND... and true may be IND will be replaced by SA or even AUS again in the future (not by SL for sure.... SL haven't won a single test in IND, AUS and SA, let alone the series.... mate, no 1 or a word "GREAT" is too far for you guys...) and for SL, you dont even need to bo back as far as 1932... they were considered minows untill certain Sanath Jaysuriya declared himself at world stage in 96... does that mean we dont consider SL is a good team now???.... no we don't.... but may be since your logic is so twisted, you should consider SL still minows...after all they were minows few years ago...not as far as 1932

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2010, 3:08 GMT

    Sehwag is an excellent batsman and the article did not say otherwise, people should take the time to understand what's been said before the make stupid comments. The indian batting line up is amazing but sadly I agree with one previous comment...just on paper. So many batman are out of form and not in any danger of getting dropped.."Dravid, Laxman, Yuvraj". Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, Dinesh Karthik and Suresh Raina should be in the team, they may not be the most defensive players but they are the future of Indian Cricket and they need to learn to adapt to Test conditions. What's going on with the bowling..Mithun is good find but Sharma shouldn't be in a Test side...what happened to Zaheer, RP Singh?? and the countless other bowlers?? So much talent in the country but poor selections from the Board.

  • Gopalakrishna on July 22, 2010, 2:13 GMT

    Oh god! I am tired of these reactive opinions. Guys, if #1 has to continue winning, then it would windies of 76 who would still be winning. Cricket is a game and things got to change, otherwise it ceases to be a game. Listen problem of India is not batting, but in bowling (atleast as of now)!

  • Dummy4 on July 22, 2010, 1:08 GMT

    it must be remembered that it is this approach that has helped him to 13 scores of 150 plus, six of them above 200, four of them above 250, and two above 300. there is no point in playing 150 deliveries for a mere fifty runs. to ask sehwag to not go after the bowling is to ask him not to score runs.every team needs a player like him with that x factor that can take the game away from the opposition. sehwag not only scores 54 runs per dismissal and does it quickly: he also makes the job easier for the middle order. does that probably explain why our middle order is a spoilt lot?

  • Keith on July 21, 2010, 23:29 GMT

    I'm a bit bemused by some of these comments. Unless I'm missing something, the author of this article wasn't saying Sehwag should change the way he plays, he wasn't condemning him for his style. He was simply pointing out the batsman's weakness. All players have some, and the focus was on Sehwag's.

  • Bang on July 21, 2010, 22:33 GMT

    @Crikgeek, should we go and check stats of GREAT Indian cricket team for just last few years or we are permitted to check stats since 1932 (do you know India actually started playing around then as a team? no? oh well.........)?

  • Bang on July 21, 2010, 22:27 GMT

    @Mayan Priyadarshana, oh you haven't seen THE joke yet! If Sri Lankan pacers start attacking @90 mph at the neck of the world's FAMOUS cricketers, the fun will start. You are also invited, I am waiting :)

  • Dummy4 on July 21, 2010, 18:54 GMT

    sehwag's answer -

  • Stephen on July 21, 2010, 18:11 GMT

    To all Sri Lankan fans who think that India's #1 spot is the biggest joke, please go & check the stats. India has performed consistently over the past few years that has fetched them the spot. This match is an aberration as they r missing key bowlers & batsmen have not performed well. Look at the mighty Aussies they have been floored by Paki bowlers. Such things happen in Cricket & that doesn't take away the status they have achieved due to their toils over the years. It is a well known fact that Sri Lanka r tigers of their own backyard. How many times have they won a Test match in India over the past decade. The answer is none. Whereas India has won several matches in Sri Lanka.

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