West Indies v India, 2nd Test, St Lucia, 3rd day June 12, 2006

Sehwag puts his spin on it

Sehwag, the bowler, has really come to the fore © Getty Images

Passing showers, blustery winds and large passages of gloominess might have been the order of the day but India, powered by a most efficient engine called `Jumbo', settled into a very comfortable position to wrap up this game. Anil Kumble will always remember the day as one where he went past the tireless Courtney Walsh in the wickets tally; he'll also remember it as a day when, with due apologies to Curtly Ambrose and Richie Richardson, a baldhead turned into a dread.

There are two ways to view the issue. Watching Virender Sehwag floating the ball outside off, getting it to drift away and jag back in, one can lament the absence of Harbhajan Singh. Or one can admire Sehwag's growth as a bowler, giving India an extra option while playing a solitary spinner. If the last two weeks are anything to go by, Sehwag is a more than valuable fifth bowler.

Before this series, Sehwag had a grand total of three wickets in 45 Tests. Three innings on and he's entered double figures. Surely a candidate for the `find of the tour'.The fifth one-dayer in Trinidad, where he was far more effective than Harbhajan, provided the early signals. He began tight, suffered for a short while against a rampaging Chris Gayle but quickly settled the issue by pushing a faster one and rattling his stumps. He plugged away against Ramnaresh Sarwan and Brian Lara, both in form and both trying to increase the tempo, and ended with an impressive 1 for 29 off 10 overs.

Then he went to Antigua and got a tonsure. Maybe that's the secret behind all this wonderful bowling - batsmen are too busy controlling their laughter. In the first Test he deceived Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Dwayne Bravo in the first innings and got everyone, including yours truly, to miss his dear friend, Harbhajan. If Sehwag could do this, imagine what Harbhajan could, went the war cry. Things got better in the second, when he picked up two more and as Rahul Dravid revealed later, "kept putting his hand up during the latter stages, signaling that he was ready to bowl."

Of course, he had made the grave error of celebrating when he got the wicket - which batsman wouldn't be cock-a-hoop when he realises his bowling prowess? - and was docked 20% of his match fee. Sehwag took his anger out on the West Indian bowlers, lashing a stormy 180 on the first day, and soon got to work with some classical offbreak bowling. Last evening, he began with two maidens getting one ball to grip, fox Gayle and zip past the stumps.

Today, his first proper spell began in the 23rd over of the day - he'd earlier had one over to help Munaf Patel shift ends - and started with a beauty. Bravo got one that drifted and cut back into him and Mahendra Singh Dhoni, behind the stumps, was left gaping as well. It was a sort of delivery that would have made Lance Gibbs, watching from the corporate box, proud.

Over the next seven overs he altered flight, pace and line. Length was mostly constant, yet he surprised Bravo with a yorker at the stroke of lunch and nearly had him. Off his first ball after lunch, he got Bravo to offer Dhoni a half chance. Sixteen overs for 33 runs, on that pitch, was no mean task. He tempted Jerome Taylor into one slog too many, left Pedro Collins clueless and snared Ian Bradshaw to pat one back, completing a stupendous catch.

He was allowed only three balls in the second innings as the umpires decided to take the players off. Even the elements, it appeared, couldn't handle it anymore.

Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo