Wisden's Leading Cricketer in the World, 2009

Sehwag named Wisden's Leading Cricketer

Scyld Berry

The Leading Cricketer in the World was instituted in Wisden 2004. The six previous winners have been Ricky Ponting, Shane Warne, Andrew Flintoff, Muttiah Muralitharan, Jacques Kallis and Virender Sehwag. Players can be chosen more than once for this award.

Virender Sehwag flicks during his fifty, Bangladesh v India, 1st Test, Chittagong, 1st day, January 17, 2010
Virender Sehwag has to be first on the team-sheet to represent the World, whatever the game's format © AFP
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Several strong candidates advanced their case to be the Leading Cricketer in the World in 2009. None, however, made such an impact as to displace the incumbent, Virender Sehwag, India's 31-year-old opening batsman, who extended the sport's traditional boundaries further still. He scored more quickly than any specialist batsman in Tests or one-day internationals. Last year he broke Test cricket's sound barrier by scoring at more than a run a ball. Australia's former captain Ian Chappell, in as good a position to judge as anybody alive, directly compared Sehwag to Sir Donald Bradman: they have the fastest scoring-rate among players of their generation, and are the only men to have exceeded 290 three times in Tests. Chappell called Sehwag "the greatest destroyer since the U-boat", and dismissed the accusation that he prospered only in home conditions by pointing out that he averaged almost 50 abroad.

Sehwag raised the bar even higher than in 2008, when he had scored at strike-rate of 85 runs per 100 balls in Tests, and 120 in one-day internationals.

In 2009 he did not play so much, after injuring his right shoulder during the second IPL, and for much of the year the giant rested. It was no coincidence that, in his absence, India were knocked out in the early stages of both the World Twenty20 and the Champions Trophy. He still played in all of India's Test matches in 2009 - a three-Test series in New Zealand and another at home to Sri Lanka - and, in steering them to No. 1 in the Test rankings for the first time, Sehwag averaged 70, with a strike-rate of 108.9.

Adam Gilchrist had set a new standard with his strike-rate of 81.9 while averaging 47 in Tests, but he did so almost entirely from the relative comfort of No. 7 in one of the greatest Test teams of all. Sehwag has taken on the opposition from the first ball of India's innings, shredding their confidence with his strokeplay, demoralising them as no Test batsman has done since Bradman, who scored at 61.2 per 100 balls. In one-day internationals in 2009 Sehwag had a strike-rate of 136.5 - again, far higher than any batsman of substance has achieved over a lengthy period - while averaging 45.

"The feat of the year", as Chappell called it, came when Test cricket returned to the Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai last December. Sri Lanka scored 366 for eight on the opening day as they attempted, in the last match of the series, to overturn India's 1-0 lead. Next morning they continued to 393 all out; 79 overs remained in the day. Few would have thought of winning the game from this position, rather than settling for a draw. Sehwag did. By the close of the second day he had scored 284 not out from 239 balls with 40 fours and seven sixes - and Sri Lanka are Asia's best fielding side.

By dispiriting bowlers Sehwag has made batting so much easier for team-mates. Rangana Herath made a fine comeback last year as Sri Lanka's left-arm spinner, yet, when he came on to bowl, Sehwag went down the pitch to drive his second ball for six. Herath's fellow spinner was Muttiah Muralitharan, his captain Kumar Sangakkara - a candidate himself to be the Leading Cricketer in the World. But Sehwag still surged to the second-fastest Test double-hundred ever recorded, from only 168 balls. Those of us who saw the fastest - Nathan Astle's from 153 balls against England - would vouch that Christchurch's drop-in pitch played as flawlessly as an artificial one.

Sehwag, not surprisingly, could not continue in the same vein next morning and was dismissed for 293 from 254 balls. But by then India had taken a first innings lead, and Sehwag had given his team so much time that even though Sri Lanka made more than 300 in their second innings as well, India won by an innings early on the fifth day, and took the series 2-0 to claim top spot.

While Sehwag was batting at the Brabourne, South Africa and England were preparing for a one-day international in Durban, and a television in Kingsmead's pavilion was switched on silently while the captains did their press conferences. Both Graeme Smith and Andrew Strauss kept looking at the distant screen to watch Sehwag. One definition of genius is doing what nobody else can: and in 2009 Sehwag batted like nobody else has ever done for any length of time. Sehwag learned to bat on a driveway of smooth concrete beside his house on the outskirts of Delhi, with a younger brother and neighbours to bowl taped tennis balls quickly. If he had an identical twin, who batted at the same rate as Viru in 2009, India would score 600 in a day of 90 overs. Test cricket has been threatened by the greater excitement that is perceived in 50-over and 20-over cricket; it will not be if more batsmen emulate Sehwag, as he pushes back the parameters and scores at the same rate in Tests as others do in Twenty20.

Strauss was nominated by several correspondents who were consulted about this award. Besides leading England's improvement in Test cricket to regain the Ashes, and squaring the four-Test series in South Africa, he also resurrected England's 50-over cricket. But England under Strauss lost a Test series in the West Indies, which none of the main Test-playing countries had done for six years, although allowance has to be made for the fact that the captain had no say in his squad's selection after his hurried appointment; and, in one-day cricket, England were hammered 7-1 by Australia during the year.

Tillakaratne Dilshan was the other main nominee. His case rests more on limited-overs than on Test cricket: if we deduct the Chittagong Test, in which he scored two hundreds, he averaged 52.80 last year, and did not make the Wisden Test XI as he gained only one of the three selectors' votes. Superb in his hand-eye co-ordination, Dilshan came ever closer to Sehwag in his approach as he was promoted to open the batting for Sri Lanka in all three formats, without ever surpassing the trendsetter. He scored more runs in Twenty20 internationals than anybody else last year (471), although none inthe World Twenty20 final at Lord's. He can be credited with popularising the scoop on bended knee over the shoulder, but not its invention.

Sehwag has to be first on the team-sheet to represent the World, whatever the game's format. He would take on the Martians, however hostile and alien their attack, disrupting their lines and wavelengths; and, if he succeeded, as he normally does, he would make life so much easier for those who followed.

© John Wisden & Co. Ltd