In his recently released book, Pundits from Pakistan, Rahul Bhattacharya reveals that during Virender Sehwag's 309 at Multan last year, his batting partner for for much of that innings, Sachin Tendulkar, kept telling him: "Shot khelo, lekin shot banao mat." ("Play shots, but don't manufacture shots.") Sehwag, one of the originals of this age, did not need to manufacture any shots today: he had enough of them in his arsenal to batter Pakistan to resignation. It was an astonishing innings, but routine for him. He has played like this before: at Bloemfontein, at Mumbai, at Melbourne, at Multan. He has straddled continents, and bowlers from every cricketing nation now fear him.
Consider his audacity. Rana Naved-ul-Hasan runs in to bowl to him with a seven-two off-side field, and Sehwag spanks him repeatedly to the boundary square on the off side. Inzamam-ul-Haq sets three slips and a gully for him, and he clinically bisects them repeatedly. He is not afraid to hit the ball in the air, as if insouciantly proclaiming: "catch me if you can." He is dropped at third slip after slashing at a ball, and plays a glorious cover-drive the next ball for four. He does not care for what has just happened, or who he faces; he lives in the moment, and it is an exuberant one.
Sehwag's audacity of intention would be mere bravado if he wasn't as good a player as he is. His defence, rarely spoken of, is solid, and he is out far more often because of an aggressive move gone wrong than an inability to keep a good ball out. And he attacks so relentlessly that he can demoralise opponents in just a session, or an hour, or an over. He does not need to open his mouth to inflict mental disintegration.
Gautam Gambhir played a good innings, mostly compact defence punctuated liberally with some lovely strokes, especially through cover. His 41 came off just 46 balls, though it was unnoticed because of the way Sehwag was batting. And that was perhaps the problem. Gambhir stepped out to the first ball of Danish Kaneria's second spell and hoicked it straight to mid-on. When Sehwag is on song, he needs support, not a partner to complement his strokeplay. Gambhir did a wonderful job while he was there, but was out doing something Sehwag never does: not playing the ball on its merit.
Pakistan could have packed up and gone home if not for Danish Kaneria. The rest of their bowling is ludicrously weak. Abdul Razzaq as a fourth bowler is a prospect to give a captain nightmares, but his own captain, not the man leading the opposition. Mohammad Sami and Rana Naved-ul-Hasan were pedestrian today, and it all came down to Kaneria.
Kaneria bowled beautifully. His bowling has spin, bounce and accuracy, and his googly was described by Richie Benaud, during Pakistan's tour there, as the best he had ever seen. His battle with Sehwag was fascinating, and after a brief opening spell with the new ball, Sehwag failed to dominate him. He did bowl the occasional four-ball, but many potentially wicket-taking balls as well, including a classical legspinner's delivery that Sehwag edged to slip, where Younis Khan dropped a sitter. Pakistan were terrible on the field, and Bob Woolmer still has a lot of work to do with this side.