After five defeats in seven games, Virender Sehwag was desperate for a win. And he wasn't going to let a dodgy pitch come in his way. Sehwag's genius demands a challenge in the limited-overs format, and particularly in the shortest version of the game. Saturday was one of those occasions when his batting was pitted against much more than the Kochi Tuskers bowling attack. On a pitch where a batsman was dismissed leg before when the ball zooted on to his boot in the second over of the game, Sehwag scripted one of the best IPL innings, making 80 off 47 deliveries. The next highest score in the match was 31.
Delhi needed some inspiration to extricate themselves from the bottom of the points table, and there was no one better than Sehwag to provide it; especially after Sreesanth's first delivery had barely risen above David Warner's shin to strike off stump. Three deliveries later, a length ball rolled across the surface to strike Naman Ojha in front, on his shoelaces. Sehwag gritted his teeth at the non-striker's end and decided that it was time for a different approach.
"The wicket was not easy to bat on but I took the responsibility to bat at least 15-16 overs. I was hitting the ball very nicely but we were losing wickets as well so it was obvious that I had to bat a little longer," Sehwag said. "If wickets would not have fallen, I could have gone after the bowling, but I told myself that if I stayed a little longer, then we could get to 120-130 which would be a good total on this wicket."
What he did not reveal was that he was head and shoulders above the others in his possession of the skill and determination required to survive and score on the unpredictable wicket. He had time to guide deliveries from off stump past point, loft inside out against the turn over extra cover, and pull deliveries that barely got up over deep midwicket.
Mahela Jayawardene, the Kochi captain, acknowledged as much. "I think Viru batted very well, we knew he was very crucial for their innings and tried to get him but the way we bowled in the last 10 overs, I don't think we had any control of things."
Sehwag blasted four fours and five sixes off his last 15 deliveries as Delhi took 94 off the last 7.2 overs to reach 157, which was way above par on the low wicket. "130-140 probably would have been a very competitive score for us to chase down, but 160 was a bit tough," Jayawardene said. "We did not bowl in good areas at all; we were too full, we didn't hit the deck in the last ten overs but we bowled well in the first ten overs. Viru batted well. I can't take anything away from him, but 130 would have been a good score for us to chase down."
Jayawardene said that on such a wicket, the key was to play as straight as possible, something that was easier said than done as Parthiv Patel's dismissal showed. "You are never sure when the low bounce is going to come so I think the best way is to bat without thinking about whether it is going to stay low. If it comes low, you can't control it but just try and play straight. It's tough but we have to try and adjust to these conditions all around, batsmen and bowlers, and try to fight it out."
Sehwag, who said that 120 would have been a par total, was delighted with what Delhi managed, and told his bowlers to keep it in good areas and let the wicket do the rest. "Maybe one ball would keep low or another would stop. It is difficult to chase when the ball is keeping low. All my bowlers did a fantastic job. Whenever I brought Morne [Morkel] in, he took a wicket. You can't expect more from your bowlers when they run in every time and take wickets."
Delhi could not have expected more from their captain as well, who mastered the conditions that felled everyone else, including batsmen like Jayawardene and Brad Hodge.
Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo