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Viru's tryst with another ton

G Unnikrishnan Mumbai, Nov 21, 2012, DHNS

Sehwag will play his 100th Test when India take on England at the Wankhede

controlled aggression: India opener Virender Sehwag has entertained the masses with his pyrotechnics over the years. AFP

There is this endearing anecdote about Virender Sehwag on how he found a way to negate the reverse swing of Abdul Razzaq, while playing for Leicestershire in the English country cricket.

Sehwag suggested hitting the ball out of ground, necessitating the use of a different ball, and thus nullifying the reverse swing of the Pakistan pacer.

There was no intense boardroom discussion or a team meeting, but it was rather a quick thought. Perhaps, only Sehwag, who will play his 100th Test when he steps on to the field against England at the Wankhede stadium, could think like that because his mind is a simple device, complexities have no place there.

In a way the incident also explains Sehwag’s batting philosophy – it is uncluttered and based on pure aggression that at times gives us the impression of him not taking his batting seriously. But nothing could be more wrong about Sehwag.

He has a clever, ever-ticking mind that understands the strengths and weaknesses of his batting, and it also helps him to spot the fragileness in opposition bowling in a jiffy. It was quite evident when he made his debut at St Geroge’s Park, Bloemfonteine in November 2001.

He came into bat when India were struggling at 68 for four, and the Delhiite had to negate the likes of Makhaya Ntini, Jacques Kallis, Lance Klusener and Nantie Hayward. It was a mountainous task for a beginner on a quick wicket. But he made the occasion memorable, notching up a 173-ball 105 including 19 hits to the fence, and that ability to hit boundaries without taking any risk even off good deliveries has remained a significant part of Sehwag’s batting.

The high number of boundaries helps him move his and thereby the team’s score at a brisk pace, often putting the rival teams under tremendous pressure. From that early stage itself, Sehwag has realised that his strong point is to follow his natural game, and occupation of the crease, something Rahul Dravid made into a fine art, doesn’t suit his game.

But Sehwag’s batting blossomed fully when the then Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly and coach John Wright decided to shift him to opening slot from middle-order. The move invited some criticism at that stage as many were not convinced about Sehwag’s ability to counter the new ball and its allies – swing and bounce.

Desire to excel

Yes, there were issues against short-pitched balls early in his career, as he didn’t play the pull or hook well. But then meticulous practice and a burning desire to excel at the highest level helped him overcome the trouble.

Even now, Sehwag is not the best exponent of hook or pull, but adopting a short of the length line is no guarantee of success against him anymore, having learnt the art of leaving the ball. Additionally, he has a very effective upper cut as well.

The presence of Sehwag at the pole position and his rate of scoring also have allowed the Indian bowlers the luxury of time. If Sehwag fires then India will reach a formidable score quickly, providing the bowlers an extra couple of hours to fire out the opposition, an important factor in many of India’s Test victories at home and away over the last decade.

Now, standing on the verge of his 100th Test, Sehwag has tallied 8448 runs at 50.89 with 23 hundreds, and he is second only to Dravid, who at the same point of time had made 8492 runs at 58.16 with 22 hundreds. Even the likes of Sunil Gava­skar (8394) and Sachin Tendulkar (8351) are behind Sehwag when they played their 100th Test and that tells some story about his talent and longevity.

He has two triple hundreds – 309 against Pakistan at Multan and 319 against South Africa at Chennai – at this stage of his career, joining en elite club of batsmen who has achieved such a feat — Sir Don Bradman, Brian Lara and Chris Gayle – all natural stroke-players.

But Sehwag’s legend goes beyond mere numbers – impressive in any case – and it’s all about his impact. Opposition views Sachin Tendulkar with awe, Dravid with respect and Laxman with adoration. But no one, perhaps since Viv Richards, has been able to fill the rivals with fear as much as Sehwag. It’s simply because he has refused to dilute his faith in his aggressive brand of batting, let’s salute this true original then.


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