What makes Virender Sehwag such a special player? I’ve often mulled over this question—is it his monk like stillness on the crease even while playing the most outrageous shots, that both charms and baffles. Or, is it his supreme eye-hand co-ordination backed with remarkable bat speed that compels you to marvel at his inimitable flair.
Well, all of these have had a part to play in making Sehwag who he is today, yet it would be grossly unfair to brush aside the other factors, not so technical, that have huddled together to define Sehwag.
So, what are these ‘other’ factors I mention? To begin with, his game-sense—In a Ranji trophy match against Orissa, played in Delhi, on one of the worst cricket pitches I’ve played first-class cricket on, Sehwag stepped down the track to a medium-pace bowler and played a wild slog only to miss the ball by at least a foot. We were already 2 down for next to nothing and needed to consolidate, but Sehwag’s approach didn’t seem in sync with the demands of the situation. Hence, in a sort of a panic, I immediately went up to him in order to persuade him to take it slow. The subsequent conversation we had gave me a peek into his astute cricket brain.
He convinced me that his coming down the track and missing the ball by a mile was a part of a bigger plan. On the damp and green Kotla pitch, it was simply impossible to put bat to ball when the ball was pitched up. Since Orissa bowlers were not budging from that length, he needed to do something extraordinary to make them falter. As he’d anticipated, the next two balls were short-pitched and Sehwag obliged by hitting two crisp boundaries. It wasn’t the quality of his skill-set that fetched him most of his runs, but his incisive understanding of the game that made him so successful. He always knew how big those windows of opportunities to score runs were and thus always capitalized.
Another fascinating thing about his game is the belief he’s had in his abilities. While most people would tell him to move his feet, get behind the ball etc. especially against better bowlers in bowler-friendly conditions, he would always stick to his game plan and his strengths. Where others practiced caution, he saw opportunities. In Chennai against Australia, he went out to bat at the fag end of the day. Everyone advised him restrain but he snapped back saying that since Aussies would be attacking, he could easily pick up a few boundaries. And he did. He backed himself to beat the opponent in his own game, which was by playing Warne and Murali against the spin. Once Sehwag did that successfully, they played into his hands. By hitting a boundary of a fairly good ball, he forced the bowler to raise the bar even further and falter. It isn’t a coincidence that he gets more balls on his legs than other openers. Bowlers, even the best of them, overdo in the process of cramping him for room.
Finally, the one thing that has made Sehwag remarkably successful has been the honesty with which he’s acknowledged his strengths and weaknesses. After surviving Lee and Gillespie in the first session on a slightly damp pitch in Sydney, Sehwag quite candidly confessed how it was brilliant that I took more strike against Brett Lee, for he didn’t fancy his chances against the moving ball. Not that he wouldn’t have survived (he scored 195 in Melbourne on Day-1), but he fancied his chances more against Gillespie. He would always very gracefully accept what he could do and what he couldn’t.
Things though seemed to have changed a little bit in the last couple of years for Sehwag. Perhaps, it may have something to do with his age and hence eyes losing their sharpness, or hands not generating the same bat speed anymore. Players who rely on eye-hand coordination find the going really tough if things are not in perfect sync.
If that is indeed the case, should Sehwag rebuild his game from scratch and find ways to move his feet more often because eyes and hands aren’t that efficient anymore? John Wright, under whom Sehwag blossomed, would perhaps advice against such radical shifts. During his tenure as the Indian coach, whenever Sehwag went through a lean patch, John would always tell him to keep the faith, play to his strengths, and yet be selective. John Wright would never tinker with his batting even when things weren’t going right, since Sehwag’s strengths were his balance and hands. Any attempt to strategize a Plan-B to develop a technical skill, he up until then did not possess, would’ve meant compromising on his strengths. Unlike other players, the only Plan-B Sehwag has is of biding a bit more time.
Logically speaking, Sehwag’s game-sense, which once developed, stays with you till the end of time, isn’t the one that has deserted him even now. Hence, it’s only fair to assume that Sehwag’s mind is still equally sharp. The belief too is still visible because the bat is still going after the balls it used to go for earlier, while he’s still not shying away from playing against the spin or attack from the outset.
So, it possibly is just the honesty that’s missing. While I’m a 100% sure that Sehwag acknowledges that off late he hasn’t been amongst the runs, he seems to forget that fact whenever he gets a start. For me an opener getting out cheaply is far more acceptable, for he’s bound to get a good ball early on. But not capitalizing on the start is a sin. And that’s what is ailing Sehwag these days, much more than the lack of starts. It seems that the moment he reaches 30-40s, he starts playing like the Sehwag of old—which he isn’t at the moment.
The days when he used to hit three boundaries in an over for the entire duration of 90 overs can return, but only if he’s happy to hit 1 in two overs for a few consecutive innings. He needs to be ruthlessly honest with himself about his current predicament and that’s the only way to get out of it. There’s a thin line between having immense belief and becoming arrogant. The moment that line gets blurred, honesty goes straight out of the window.
It isn’t too late for Sehwag to turn it around, and for that he doesn’t even need to bat in the middle-order. He just needs to find a new process of building an innings, which might be in complete contrast with how he did it earlier. He doesn’t need to rebuild his game from scratch but rediscover another way of scoring runs. Isn’t that a hallmark of all good players?
This entry was posted on Tuesday, November 13th, 2012 at 1:07 pm
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