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Interviews

'I back myself to get big scores'

Sehwag dissects his Cricinfo Award-winning 201 against Sri Lanka

Virender Sehwag's astonishing 201 against Sri Lanka in Galle last year was voted the year's best batting performance in Tests by a Cricinfo jury comprising, among others, Ian Chappell, Tony Greig, Ramiz Raja, David Lloyd and Daryll Cullinan. At the awards presentation ceremony in Delhi, Sanjay Manjrekar, one of the judges, spoke to Sehwag about the innings, and his game in general.
Watch the video of the interview on Cricinfo TV

The off-side tactic: Sehwag neutralises Murali in inimitable fashion © AFP
 
Sanjay Manjrekar Viru, you have been a fascinating batsman and a fascinating character in cricket. To begin with, let us start with this award that you have got. Where do you place this innings, 201 not out against Sri Lanka, among the other innings that you have played for India?
Virender Sehwag I think it is the best innings I have ever played. I was unbeaten. And then I found out that it was a record. When I asked my colleagues what the record was, they told me that I had batted through the innings and that no one had done that [for India] before except Sunil Gavaskar. So I was proud of myself and thanked god that I batted the whole day.
SM So you think this is the best innings of your career?
VS Yes, because when I scored my triple centuries - first in Pakistan and the second one in Chennai - the wickets were very good and the opposition didn't look like they could get me out. But in this game we were losing wickets and I was still at the other end, scoring runs at a good strike-rate.
SM You've mentioned Gavaskar as the other player who carried his bat through the innings. But Gavaskar is the kind of player you would expect to bat through the innings and get a double-hundred or a triple-hundred - although he did not get a triple. You aren't such a player, though. You go in, you look to just hit the ball, and still you've got such big scores. How do you strike this balance - big scores with your acceleration?
VS I back myself to get big scores because when I'm going in to bat, my mind is working all the time. I keep thinking that I don't want to waste balls or defend them or leave them. But there are times when you have to. In this particular innings, my colleagues kept falling at the other end, while I came out unbeaten.
I don't think I can do this very often, because I am not a Gavaskar who can bat through the innings. But I will try to score big runs, and when I get a hundred I think that this one is for me and now I have to play for my team. If I get another 50-60 runs my team will get into a good position and we can probably win the game from there.
SM You have also got two triple-hundreds. When you have reached a hundred aggressively, do visions of a double-century come to your mind?
VS No, I never think like that. When I scored 195 at Melbourne, somebody told me that I had missed a double-hundred by five runs. I told them that I was happy that I at least made 195. So I never think like that.
 
 
"I was not picking Murali's doosra and so every time I faced him I said, 'This is a doosra', and I played it towards cover and got boundaries. Then I realised it was not a doosra but offspin"
 
SM What was striking about your 201 in Galle was that while all the other batsmen - except Gautam Gambhir and you - struggled against Ajantha Mendis, you were most dominant against him. Why do think that happened?
VS Because I picked Mendis from his hand. I realised which delivery he would bowl to me and I was ready for that. I was attacking him, not defending him. When you attack a bowler, there is a little doubt in his mind. He thinks, "If I bowl a bad ball, the batsman will hit me for a boundary; but even if I bowl a good ball he will hit me for a boundary." I was doing that - he was bowling good balls and I was hitting him through cover and point for four runs. I was picking him very early and I was playing my shots against him. I especially picked his googly and offspin, and those are the balls that I can hit over long-on and deep midwicket.
SM Very rarely does it happen in world cricket that there is a spinner like Muttiah Muralitharan at the other end and that Mendis is the feared bowler. Did you think that Murali was still the better bowler and Mendis only had a few difficult balls that were his novelty? Or was Mendis just bowling better balls than Murali?
VS I was more worried about Murali, I didn't really worry about Mendis. I got out to Mendis only once in seven or eight innings - in the Asia Cup final. But Murali I was worried about because I hardly picked his doosra. So I was consciously playing Murali more carefully. But the field setting was so attacking that if I just defended the ball through covers I knew I would get a boundary or two runs. Even Murali was worried that if he gave me a little extra flight, I might hit him for a six or for a four. So he just kept bowling fast, and that is why I survived in that innings.
SM There was a time in your career very recently when you were dropped from the Test squad. You were left out of the original squad to tour Australia, and I found that shocking. But has that changed you in any way? The way you bat or mentally?
VS No, because if you look at my innings after I came back into the squad, I never changed my batting style. Yes, my mindset was different. I changed my mindset because I had to prove myself again. And the only way to prove yourself is by scoring big runs. I did exactly that in Adelaide. I still remember, in one session I batted without a boundary. I did change my mindset.
I did a lot of yoga and a lot of meditation in that time, when I was not with the team. It hurts when you are watching on television and you are not part of the team.
SM That is exactly what I was going to ask you about: the hurt. So when you went in to bat in Adelaide, that hurt was still there? Was it reminding you of what had happened recently and perhaps making you tougher?

Sehwag made 61% of the team's score in the innings. Gambhir was the only batsmen to make over 50 © AFP
 
VS Yes. My wife and I were sitting and watching India play and my wife said: "If you were in the team we would have been sitting in England and not in Najafgarh." When you are with the team you tour a lot and if you are not with the team, you will be sitting at home. So it did hurt. After that I worked hard. I was training for almost six hours a day - three hours for my fitness and three hours for my batting. I did a couple of sessions of yoga. After that I was waiting for my chance to get into the side, and I knew if I got that chance I would grab my place again.
SM When you are out of form, people are always trying to find out what the reason for that is. When you lost your place, people said the reason was your weight. After you came back, it seemed like you had got a lot more trim. Did you think that weight was perhaps a reason for your loss of form?
VS I don't think weight matters, because if you look at Inzamam-ul-Haq and Darren Lehman, they are the heaviest players…
SM There also used to be a Jock Edwards of New Zealand - you would not have seen him - he was round
VS Yes, I don't think weight is a reason. But criticism is something you have to face when you are not scoring runs. The best way to react to it is by not watching television and not reading newspapers. You just need to work hard if you want to come back and play for the Indian team. So I worked hard and came back.
Sambit Bal When you started your career, you played a lot of shots on the leg side. If you go back to the innings in South Africa - your debut Test - there were a lot of shots off the pads. Then in between you started hitting a lot of balls on the off side, while standing on leg. But after you've made a comeback, your leg-side shots are back. Is that a fair assessment?
VS I was working hard on my batting stance and on keeping my head still so that I could watch the ball closely and waiting for the ball to come to me so I could hit the ball. So for me, that is the key factor.
SB One of the things that I found striking in your knock of 201 was the way you hit Murali through the off side, against the spin. You don't see people doing that to Murali very often - hitting him against the turn.
VS I was not picking his doosra and so every time I faced him I said, "This is a doosra", and I played it towards cover and got boundaries. Then I realised it was not a doosra but offspin. But it doesn't really matter, I was still getting the boundaries. I was pretty happy with that. So there is no secret!
SM One of the toughest things for us is to suddenly see life without cricket. Indian cricket suddenly has a break after many years. It must be difficult to handle this break?
VS It's not difficult, it feels quite nice. Because this is a forced break - if our Pakistan tour was not cancelled, we would have been in Pakistan. I am enjoying it quite a lot, especially because I have got the opportunity to spend time with my wife and son. We go for movies, to eat out, and I spend lot of time at home. My son has started batting, holding the bat in both hands and I have to bowl. So I am enjoying this break.
SM For the first time, India is in a position to reach the No. 1 spot in Test cricket. Do you think India is capable enough to stay at No. 1?
 
 
"I found McGrath the toughest bowler. I could not hit him for boundaries at will. His line and length were immaculate, so there was always the danger of getting out"
 
VS The first hurdle for us is to reach No. 1, because South Africa and Australia are still ahead of us. Once we reach there it's a difficult task to stay there. We will try to win the Test series in New Zealand and then we have a chance to reach the No. 1 position. They say that it's easy to climb a mountain, but it's difficult to stay there at the top. Strong winds blow there and a man can fall anytime.
SM When I saw the itinerary for the tour of New Zealand - it's a one-and-a-half month tour, and it must be for the first time ever that there is no practice game on a tour of this sort, just international games - two Twenty20 games, then ODIs and then Test matches. I played in the 1980s and 90s and I find this itinerary shocking. What does a modern-day cricketer think of this itinerary?
VS If you ask me, I don't like practice games at all. Because instead of spending time in the practice games, I would like to spend more time on my batting
SM In the nets?
VS Yes, in the nets, or I would prefer resting. Because I know that if I score a hundred in the practice game then maybe my next innings will not be as good. So it's better that the hundred that you score in the practice game, you score in Test cricket. This is what I think, but there are other players for whom practice games are important, and they play those games. You are playing international cricket for so many years, so you are used to it and you know what to do and what not to do.
SM Final question that every cricket fan wants to ask, but I want to ask you genuinely. Give me the names of two or three bowlers who have troubled you, who you have a lot of respect for. It is important to know that from the batsman.
VS It was my dream to play more against Glenn McGrath, but I played just one series against him, and they won that series. In that series I found McGrath the toughest bowler. I could not hit him for boundaries at will. It was very difficult against McGrath - his line and length were immaculate, so there was always the danger of getting out. The other bowler for me is Muttiah Muralitharan, against whom you cannot hit boundaries at will. You have to wait for him to bowl a bad ball or bowl the ball so you can hit it in a a place where there are no fielders, so even if you defend, it goes for a boundary
Watch the video of the interview on Cricinfo TV