The name is Virender Sehwag
You don’t need to know rocket science to predict the favorites to win the Pataudi Trophy for this year in English soil. The imperious figure of Virender Sehwag shall not grace the occasion at Lords’ on Thursday morning. Given the fact that, Sehwag relishes challenges, fast bowlers and big occasions, India would certainly start on the back foot when they pad up to face the English bowlers later this week.
Sehwag’s mere presence has been more domineering than any other batsman in the contemporary cricket world. His resurgence since early 2008 has been exemplary. For a batsman of his caliber to not even be selected in the provisional squad that toured Australia in 2007-08 will probably remain the harshest treatment he has received in his career. Critics believed Sehwag was always a batsman who set up the game for you (his test average supported that theory even more) and not the one who helped you finish or save test matches. Boom! The Adelaide act was an assortment of patience, grit and shots from the Brand Sehwag factory.
A couple of months later, Sehwag laid notice for chastisement of South African fast bowlers at Chepauk. Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel were dealt with severe thrashing at the hands of Sehwag. The ease with which he managed to score runs on that scorchy afternoon in Chennai, demolished all hopes of revival for the tourists.
Fast forward a few more months, the winter saw gruesome attack on Mumbai by terrorists, followed by the touring English team heading back home based on security grounds. They, after negotiations and deliberations, headed east once again to play a couple of test matches at Chennai and Mohali.
It was a season when Sehwag served everything hot on the table. However, he went without a test hundred since that match-winning double century at Galle in July that year. His strike rate, however, remained well above 85 throughout this period.
English would not forget that particular evening session at Chepauk, once again, when Sehwag turned the game completely. In what looked like an impossible win for the hosts, Sehwag’s counter attacking methods against Steve Harmison and James Anderson brightened the chances for an Indian victory. 83 off 68 balls set things up nicely for Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh to take India to one of its most memorable victories in its glittering history.
The swashbuckling genius would be missing. You don’t need to dig up the statistics too much to realize how crucial Sehwag has become to India’s fortunes nowadays. The recent test series against West Indies is a good enough proof to show how much the Sehwag factor helps India wrest the early initiative.
Murali Vijay and Abhinav Mukund showed what mere mortals can do and what someone like Sehwag will swivel out to factor quality fast bowling on a tough pitch. On most occasions, it has always been tremendous to watch how Sehwag ends up being the lone scorer on tough tracks and against some real good bowling attacks.
The centuries he scored in New Zealand (in 2002) when the team was falling apart for a cumulative score of 100, the double century at Galle when the whole team’s score was merely 300, his fifties along with Gambhir on the same Lankan tour against the much dreaded Mendis, his first day onslaught of the Australians at the Boxing Day test of 2003, proves that he is quite the master of his style of play and it is better off that he only does that.
Indians have generally been slow starters on tours. That showed up once again when they played very poorly against Somerset. They almost always start on the back foot waiting to draw things back. Now at Lords’, India will once again have a new opening pair in Abhinav Mukund and Gautam Gambhir. The likes of Anderson, Broad and Tremlett will heave a sigh of relief to not see Sehwag at the other end of the 22 yards.
Sehwag instills fear. He creates panic in the opposition camp with his all-attack strategy. Within the first hour of play, opposition captains are left scratching their heads. Even if he fails, he would still have got some start going for the team. He plays his strokes on offside with utmost dismissiveness. Anything that is slightly (read the units as millimeters) would be dispatched behind the point region. And, the ball races!
Take this scenario now for a better understanding. India ended up 10-2 in 12 overs at Barbados with both Dravid and Mukund gone. The team is already fighting for survival, with all guns blazing down.
Throughout the tour of Caribbean, India missed that good start. Except for a brief while when Laxman was at his poetic best and Raina with streaks of brilliance, the Indian batting never looked to attack the opposition. The pace at which the game was played was unlike the way it is usually played in the recent past. The run rate was well below 3, when the world is running helter-skelter at other parts.
The bunch of bowlers, who India will face in England are far more equipped to create trouble in bowler friendly conditions. Tremlett has been at his best since Ashes down under. Anderson is slowly getting his lost rhythm back. Broad has been unlucky, whilst he has delivered some really good spells against the Lankans last month. Bresnan is still waiting in the wings to let his hit-the-deck style of fast bowling do all the talking. Graeme Swann can proudly claim the tag of being the “best spinner in the world” currently. So, there is no breathing space for India even when the spinner is in operation.
England have got almost got all their bases covered. May be, a left-arm fast bowler would make their variety “complete”. Their bowling unit though can dismantle, what is believed around the world as possibly the best batting unit ever, consistently.
England start the tour as favorites and more so overwhelming now, with the Indian team going into the test series without the services of Nawab of Najafgarh.
Almost a decade ago it was here at Lords’, Sourav unleashed his biggest master stroke that revived Indian cricket holistically. Sehwag packed a punch in his 84 on the second day of the test. Nine years since, India step into the English summer for the second time without Sehwag. Few openers have caught the imagination more than what Sehwag has done, in the recent past.
Indian cricket history don’t have too many solid openers to boast of and here is one for all seasons. He may be called a flat-track bully. He may be criticized as the one who doesn’t play for situations. He may look volatile. He may give you chances. But, no one has ever displayed such consistency collaged with audacity ; a simple strategy which is not that easy to actually implement against the best bowlers in the world. Sehwag has been a revelation and this touring Indian team will be waiting to get him on the park as soon as possible, for he is indeed the team’s biggest weapon to handle the fiery English fast bowlers in their back yard.
Test matches are all about capturing important moments of the game over a period of five days. Sehwag lets you capture the first few moments, more often than not. It’s a gamble that is worth taking for he lets you down very rarely.
He is as much a captain’s delight, as much as he is a nightmare. You might find him stay put on the field for a whole day scoring runs at a speed faster than a Formula One car. On another day, you would find him sit in the dressing room watching his team-mates amass runs after he might have got out for a silly shot early in his innings.
Here is one cricketer who completely embodies the Brownian motion of randomness. Here is one cricketer who can defy Gerolamo Cardano’s method of building a probability space. Here is one cricketer who doesn’t know what it means to be “in the zone”. The Name Is Virender Sehwag.