Sehwag finds a way past defensive attacks
Virender Sehwag is bored of Kumar Sangakkara's tactics. And boredom seems to be the only way Sri Lanka can get Sehwag out. That has been the case since Kanpur last year. They bored him in Galle, and Sehwag obliged by chasing a short and wide delivery. They bored him at the SSC, he resisted and resisted, and then got out to the first sight of a new spinner. It was hardly surprising then that as early as the eighth over at the P Sara Oval we had a square third man, a deep point, and a sweeper-cover, and Chanaka Welegedara bowling short and wide outside off.
It is an obvious plan, but because it is Sehwag, it makes for fascinating viewing. Defensive tactics, run-less periods, eat at his soul. It is as if the basic purpose of his cricket is being defeated. He goes out of his way then. He says he will keep playing the same shot too. Except he doesn't play it for he is no fool. Still he needs to keep scoring runs. He needs to find a way. Find a way he did today.
First, though, he showed Sangakkara and Welegedara that they were wasting their time. He left the ball in a dismissive manner. The bat didn't even go up. The feet didn't try to cover the off stump. There was no "just in case". He knew what was going on. But that was not enough, runs needed to be scored. This is a man who has scored 4478 of his first 7000 Test runs in boundaries.
By the time Sri Lanka resorted to bowling wide outside off with deep off-side fields, Sehwag had already scored 21 off 21, including four boundaries off Welegedara. The "plan" now was well and truly on. The first ball Sehwag left alone, the second he pulled deliberately through midwicket. Sri Lanka saw impatience, and continued with the same attack. Sehwag opened the face, played the next ball all along the ground. Single. 29 off 27.
The first ball of the next over from Welegedara was left alone disdainfully. The next ball Sehwag hit fiercely. Down the ground, between mid-off and extra cover. I can still hit fours, he seemed to say. And then he left alone five more deliveries in that over, one of them a wide.
He left alone the first ball of the next over. He shaped to cut the next, but left that too. And then he moved across the stumps, got in line, and pulled it to square-leg. Four more. Two balls later he hit a forehand between the bowler and mid-off. 46 off 41. If SSC was bad for Sri Lanka, this was worse. At SSC Sehwag just waited for them to bowl at his stumps. Here, not only was he telling Sri Lanka he won't be getting out wide outside off, he was telling them he would score boundaries too.
There were two big differences between Galle and here. In Galle the shot that got him out had every chance of landing in the deep fielder's lap even if Sehwag had connected as opposed to toe-ending it. Here his shots were intended for vacant areas.
The bigger and more important difference was what runs meant here. In Galle, or in SSC for that matter, quick runs wouldn't have won India the match. Taking risks then was a no-win situation. Here, with a more manageable 425 on the board, quick runs hurt Sri Lanka. Galle and SSC were up Sri Lanka's alley, this was up Sehwag's.
On a day that Sehwag became the second-quickest man to 7000 runs - in terms of innings and joint-fastest in terms of Tests played - other than that defensive-attacking strategy, there wasn't much to bother him. Lasith Malinga he kept out well. No undue risks, no undue caution. The only other threat to Sehwag would have been the first sighting of spinners. He can't control himself against those creatures. Ajantha Mendis' first delivery he safely glided behind square leg. Suraj Randiv's first he swept away for four. Some things never change.
Sehwag will start the third day on 97, and Sri Lanka should throw spinners at him right away. SSC was not the first time he missed a milestone looking to hit a spinner for six. He might go for it again. He might not. Either way it will make for more fascinating viewing.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer at Cricinfo