Home > Cricket > South Africa's tour of India 2004 > Column > Deepti Patwardhan
Sehwag stands and delivers
November 24, 2004
Like a rumble of thunder on a midsummer dead night, Virender Sehwag's innings of 164 at the Green Park in Kanpur on Tuesday shook everyone out of slumber, and left the patrons drained of excitement on its demise.
As long as Sehwag sparkled, even the Green Park wicket seemed to playfully indulge in this burst of life. His departure pulled back the ashen face.
Sehwag batted with cowboy spirit and charmed with the simplicity of his art. Driving and cutting, sometimes reverse sweeping the ball to the boundary, he enthralled the crowd in the first Test against the South Africans just as boredom began to creep in after the visitors used up a little over two days to post 501 for 9 wickets declared in their first innings.
In one over he took Robin Peterson to task, scoring 15 runs from it. He started off with a big lug over mid-wicket, followed it up with two fours and then paced to a single to retain strike. South Africa's bowling attack was only masquerading as an international one, and Sehwag did not take long to reveal that. Hasn't he tamed better opposition in tougher conditions?
Three years ago, against the same opponents on their home turf, the cricket purists were smirking at his entry into the Test arena as another one-day trick pony galloping into the battlefield of the thoroughbreds. But, batting at no 6, he silenced them with a gritty 105 at Bloemfentein.
India then made a concession, captain Ganguly supported it and Sehwag was thrust into the role of Test opener against England in July 2002.
In Sachin Tendulkar's absence in Sri Lanka, he was promoted to the top of the order in the one-dayers and inducted into the position in the Tests since it was the only spot available to fit him in. It looked like an extension of a dangerous trend India had started; of opting for non-specialist openers who could be chopped off on grounds of non-performance.
All the while there was talk of his loose technique, but the sneers were muffed by the volume of his runs.
Then, in Multan, Pakistan, India's supposedly technically deficient batsman ripped open the history books, scoring the first triple century (309) by an Indian. An embarrassing statistic had been erased, and a collective dream realised. It may not have rated as the best innings by an Indian batsman, but the number of runs was difficult to ignore.
Indeed, Sehwag has a penchant for big numbers. When he hits a ton, he tends to hit it big.
This year, he followed his 309 in Pakistan with a 155 in Chennai against the Australians. Now comes a 164 against South Africa. The latest innings has reaffirmed his class.
While criticising Sehwag for his technical faults, many forget the famous dogma, that Test cricket is played in the mind. The 25-year-old lad from Najafgarh is mentally rock-solid. His approach to batting is labelled casual for his lack of vigilance even after continually being beaten by the bowler, but it is this utter disregard for failure that makes him see the situation and ball so clearly.
He does not let reputations or expectations burden him. Even comparisons with his idol, Tendulkar, at a very early stage in his career did not affect him. It is to his credit that his latest performance on the Test stage remained familiarly wrapped in fresh mint. Like a 10 year old wanting to show-off his batting prowess, his only intent is sending the ball out of sight.
Sehwag clubbed 164 (119 on the off-side) at a strike rate of 71.93. Gautam Gambhir, due to his flurry on Monday evening, had a strike rate of 63.58 but the pair's senior partners were left searching even for singles. India's famous four of Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman suddenly made South Africa's bowlers look mean. They trundled along, once scoring nine runs from eight overs after Sehwag had departed.
Certainly, India's batting post-Sehwag put his importance to the side in perspective. He is not the most elegant, but the most exciting for the energy he brings into the game. When he is on the job, a buzz of anticipation wraps the audience. He is the kind of player whose only index of life on the cricket field is a fast-ticking scoreboard. A rush of blood and innovative strokeplay are never inhibited by the luggage of responsibility.
He may have scored a century on debut, India's first 300 and 164 in this innings, but that won't guarantee a secure shot from this cavalier batsman. Sehwag will still get out to a harmless delivery, as he did in this latest innings, trying to attempt another inexplicable shot. But, then, he is not one to rue over it. That's Sehwag!