In a calendar year where there were many fine feats and admirable achievements, Virender Sehwag's remarkable performance in scoring 284 off 79 overs in a Test match day stands out like a peaceful protest. The way he mercilessly flayed the Sri Lankan attack at the Brabourne Stadium is further proof that he's the greatest destroyer since the U-boat.
In an era where over rates are slowing perceptibly, he's scoring quicker than ever. At a time when batsmen like Sanath Jayasuriya and Jonathan Trott enact more rituals than a religious cult, Sehwag just faces up, taps his bat a couple of times and proceeds to lash the ball to all parts. Where other batsmen rely on visualising techniques, he prefers the tried and tested method of "see the ball, hit the ball".
Sehwag has often said he doesn't think too much when he's batting. A wise man. After years of speculation about what, apart from his enormous skill, made Sir Donald Bradman so great, I've come to the conclusion that a crucial attribute was his ability to bat with an uncluttered mind. That's not all Sehwag has in common with Bradman. They are the only batsmen to surpass 290 three times in Test cricket. They also comfortably have the best strike rate among the high scorers of their generation. This leads to an interesting thought on batsmanship: should greater consideration be given to stroke production rather than technique in moulding young batsmen? After all, efficient run-scoring is not just a statistical exercise, it's the first rung on the climb to victory.
To add further weight to that argument: despite Sehwag's carefree approach, it's amazing how many of his notable achievements surpass those of opening batsmen renowned for their technique. As an opener, Sehwag has a higher average than Sunil Gavaskar. And 75% of Sehwag's centuries exceed 150, while Sir Leonard Hutton only achieved that landmark around 50% of the time. This is even more remarkable when you realise there was a time during John Wright's term as Indian coach that Sehwag was criticised for throwing his wicket away once he had got a start. I asked what his response was when the coach eventually felt the need to admonish Sehwag and Wright said: "Viru just shrugged his shoulders as if to say, 'Watch my next innings'".
There can be no argument that Bradman had the better technique, which speaks volumes for Sehwag standing by the conviction he revealed to Wright in his early days. This is an area where a coach can't help a young player; he's either born with Sehwag's confidence in his own ability or he's like the bulk of international batsmen and has moments of doubt. When comparing Sehwag to his own generation, it's the strike-rate column that shows his true worth to the team.
"Should greater consideration be given to stroke production rather than technique in moulding young batsmen? After all, efficient run-scoring is not just a statistical exercise, it's the first rung on the climb to victory"
He exceeds such renowned new-ball clatterers as Matthew Hayden and Chris Gayle by more than 20 runs per 100 balls. Incredibly, he is 16 runs per 100 balls ahead of the eternally belligerent Jayasuriya. To score at 81 runs per 100 balls while opening the batting in Test cricket is quite remarkable, even in an era where the standard of fast bowling is a little down on the previous decade.
There's another amazing aspect to Sehwag's Test-match success. In Twenty20 cricket there are a number of openers who are within a faint edge of Sehwag's strike-rate. This suggests there are openers who can score quickly for a short period but that only Sehwag can prolong a hectic run-rate throughout a long innings, highlighting his amazing confidence in his own ability and the incredible strength of his uncluttered mind.
To those who attribute much of Sehwag's success to scoring heavily on flat Indian pitches, there's evidence to the contrary. He averages 50.48 away from India as an opener and has scored seven of his 16 hundreds on foreign soil. His 195 at the MCG in 2003-04 is one of the finest examples of an opener taking on the opposing bowlers on the opening day with gusto and audacious strokeplay.
Nevertheless, even that tearaway Sehwag innings pales into insignificance when compared with his outstanding achievement of 2009 at the Brabourne Stadium. May he play more innings like it in 2010, and hopefully everybody reading this column has a happy and healthy year.