Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at Cricinfo
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When you watch Virender Sehwag bat, it's easy to forget that the opener's job description once involved seeing the shine off the new ball. Yet, even by his cavalier standards, Galle was a high-water mark. India had been pulped at the SSC in the opening Test, and Sehwag's shot selection had attracted considerable criticism. Yet, after India won the toss there was not the slightest change in approach. By lunch they had gallumphed to 151 for 0, with Sehwag on 91. It was breathtaking stuff, especially the way he dealt with Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, twin tormentors from the first Test.
The rain came down after that, and India could resume only four hours later. No cold start from Sehwag, though. He may have been within touching distance of another hundred, but you wouldn't have known without a glance at the scoreboard. Circumspection. What's that? Play had just resumed when Chaminda Vaas overpitched outside off stump. Sehwag's bat swished down and the ball went over midwicket. For six. Three balls later, he leathered one down the ground. A century from 87 balls.
If anything, his batting the following day was even more special. After the 167-run opening partnership, Sri Lanka fought back strongly, and only Sehwag showed the confidence and quickness of thought to combat the spinners. After the middle order subsided, Murali bowled most of the second morning with six fielders on the leg side. Sehwag, though, was utterly unflustered, stroking the ball against the spin with assurance. He opened the face of the bat, tapped into the vacant gaps and drove with awesome power at times.
Early in the day he stepped out to Murali and played a dazzling cover-drive, and on at least a couple of occasions he manufactured strokes despite being deceived in the flight. Until forced to slow down by the rash of wickets at the other end, he cruised along at a run a ball, driving and cutting with both precision and power.
Even more eye-catching was the taming of Mendis, whose carrom ball and other variations had decimated the heart of the batting order in Colombo. Sehwag's eye and quick hands, allied with a sluggish pitch, allowed him to play Mendis off the track, and the good work was stymied only by the lack of application from his team-mates. Even as Sehwag eschewed flamboyance and tried to farm the strike in the latter part of his innings, some of his colleagues attempted appalling strokes with not a thought for the set batsman or the match situation.
Sehwag scored 70 from the 77 balls that Mendis bowled to him, and 58 from the 81 he faced from Murali. Vaas went for a run a ball from 51 balls, and by the time the innings folded at 329, Sehwag had carried his bat for 201, an innings fit to compare with Graham Gooch's 154 (out of 252) against West Indies at Headingley in 1991. Gooch had blunted a fiery pace attack, while Sehwag had made two extraordinary spin bowlers look run of the mill.
Later, he spoke of playing Mendis off the pitch as though it was the simplest thing in the world. Others tried to pick him from the hand and failed. Sehwag trusted his instincts and played an innings for posterity. There is no point trying to emulate his methods: the man's one of a kind, seeing the shine off the ball in his own inimitable way.