When the Indian selectors decided, around two months ago, to leave Virender Sehwag out of the probables for this tour, former Australian captain Ian Chappell urged them to think again. "As the gambler says, 'You've got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em'," he had written. "Now was not the right time to give up on Sehwag."
Few would have imagined Sehwag actually making the tour but fewer still could have imagined him batting close to six hours in the final innings of the fourth Test to earn his side a draw. Sehwag doesn't usually do defence, and his average in the final innings of a Test, before his 151 in Adelaide, was 29. Only on three earlier occasions, in his 54-match career, had he managed a half-century in the final innings.
It wasn't one of his most exhilarating innings but neither was it as dogged as the scorecard suggests. By shelving his wild swish outside off stump, he produced a most uncharacteristic hundred; a driver shifting gears expertly. Until the first drinks break, a period when Rahul Dravid pottered around for 21 dot balls, Sehwag did all the scoring. After lunch he turned in a performance straight out of the Dravid manual: bringing out his front-foot defence, with his body balanced and bat ram-rod straight, and went through a whole session without a boundary. The bungee-jumper was more interested in a game of chess.
After lunch straight-batted drives continued to singe the grass and occasionally he even went aerial. He caned Brad Hogg's third ball over midwicket, despite a fielder patrolling the fence, and pounded the next one, a fuller ball, through the covers for four. Andrew Symonds and Michael Clarke were offered a bit more respect but there was no doubt he was well on top of the bowling. Sensibly he didn't take too many chances against the faster bowlers, especially after Brett Lee knocked him on the face earlier in the day, but had little trouble in blunting Australia's victory hopes.
"Sehwag batted brilliantly," said Anil Kumble later. "He was really positive and played a fantastic knock." Ricky Ponting admitted that Sehwag's innings had effectively shut their hopes of victory. "With his innings, he started taking the game away from us. I thought we could have had a good time after lunch but the way Virender was batting didn't allow us to."
Not only did Sehwag spend time in the middle, he ensured the lead was constantly enhanced. He batted out time but didn't ignore the importance of batting for runs. Just when he appeared to border on the reckless, he reined himself in. As soon as he was looking like a stone-waller, he let loose.
Picked on a hunch, thanks mainly to Kumble's backing, he vindicated his selection with a fine game here. Creating scoring opportunities against good deliveries, and using the simplicity of his technique to keep out the good ones, he wasn't sorted out, despite entering the series on the back of a woeful few months. He made just 29 and 43 in Perth but his effect went beyond mere numbers. India discovered a good young fast bowler in Ishant Sharna on this tour but also rediscovered an inimitable batsman.
Sehwag has always had the appetite for the big hundred. On the last nine occasions he's reached three figures, he's gone on to make more than 150. Starting with the 195 in Melbourne, during the 2003-04 season, he's rattled 309, 155, 164, 173, 201, 254, 180 and 151. Since then, he's pulverised attacks on day one (Multan and St Lucia), seized the initiative on day two (Chennai and Mohali), and fought back under mountainous totals on day three (Kanpur, Bangalore and Lahore). Now he's led the rearguard on day five.
No-one doubted his ability as a matchwinner; now he's shown his worth as a match-saver. We know he could fold 'em but he did well here to realise when to hold 'em.