A fleeting glance at the scorecard will tell you that Virender Sehwag scored 89 off 76 balls with 13 fours and a six. While the strike-rate - 117.10 - will suggest a typical Sehwag sizzler, this was a different sort of innings. There were no airy slashes, few high-risk shots, and yet this innings had the same effect as so many of his cavalier knocks.
If the change in Sehwag's approach was a conscious decision, there would have been reasons for it. Inconsistent form in ODIs - his last 50-plus score for India was against Bermuda in the 2007 World Cup - cost him a place in the XI. He was picked for the CB Series earlier this year, but after five failures, India preferred Gautam Gambhir and Robin Uthappa to partner Sachin Tendulkar. Sehwag's form in the Indian Premier League might have given him the edge over Uthappa for today's match, but it was Tendulkar's injury that really opened the door for him.
The problems that led to most of Sehwag's ODI failures - the inability to find the right pace of scoring, or attempting to hit the ball with might - were missing today. His approach was measured and though he cut down on risk, the damage caused was as severe.
He began cautiously against testing deliveries from Umar Gul and Sohail Tanvir. His initial forceful shots, off his pads through midwicket and square drives through point, were all played along the ground. When Wahab Riaz pitched short on leg stump on two occasions, Sehwag merely moved inside the line and lapped the ball deftly to the long-leg boundary. Only when the ball was really loose, such as the wide one Gul offered him, did Sehwag go over the top. A significant absence among the shots Sehwag played was his trademark slash over third man - a stroke that has fetched him sixes and dismissals.
"That [shot selection] is why he [Sehwag] scored 80  runs," Mahendra Singh Dhoni, his captain, said later. "You have to pick and choose. A batsman like him can score easily at one run per ball. He just has to pick and choose."
|A batsman like him [Virender Sehwag] can score easily at one run per ball. He just has to pick and chooseMahendra Singh Dhoni, India's captain|
It wasn't just about the boundaries, though, as Dhoni put it. Sehwag's running between the wickets along with Gambhir was "exceptional". There was an instance in the 17th over, when Gambhir pushed the ball to cover off Iftikhar Anjum. He didn't go for the single immediately but Sehwag had sprinted towards the danger end, putting pressure on the fielder. The throw was off target - Sehwag may have been home - and the batsmen were able to run an overthrow. His urgency and application today presented a stark contrast to his lackadaisical attitude in a match against Sri Lanka in February 2007, which resulted in one of the most ridiculous run-outs.
His innings, however, wasn't flawless. On 43, he edged one to Kamran Akmal but was dropped; and when on 58, he closed the face of the bat too early but the leading edge lobbed over Shahid Afridi's head at point. By and large, his shots were orthodox, his timing terrific and placement precise. The outcome was that India began their first ODI after the IPL in Twenty20 mode. They were 43 after five overs, 76 after ten and 143 at the end of the 20th with Sehwag's contribution being 71 off 63. His first attempt at clearing the boundary, off Riaz, paid off soon after.
It took a freak delivery to get him out - a slower one out of the back of Riaz's hand that bounced awkwardly and took the edge. By that time India were 174 for 2 in just the 24th over. "It's really important in conditions like this to score off the new ball," Dhoni said. "Wait for the bad deliveries but still look to score off the new ball. As the game progresses it gets really slow and it's very difficult to rotate."
The contenders for India's opening slots are many but if Sehwag continues to blend his aggression with judicious shot selection, he's a shoo-in for the role. A sentiment Dhoni expressed when he said, "Hopefully, if he's at his best he will continue to open."
George Binoy is a staff writer at Cricinfo