Thursday, December 10, 2009

Don’t set the agenda for Sehwag

(Also in Bengali daily Ek Din)
Amazing as it sounds, Virender Sehwag has not crossed the 30-run mark in Twenty20 cricket in over two years. Yes. The same man who has now risen into the top five Test batsmen’s category in the ICC rankings, is no good in Twenty20s. This, despite Sehwag being known as an attacking batsman.

Sehwag scores at a strike rate of over 80 in Test matches, and the 293 he scored the other day came off 254 balls. That automatically suggests he would be a huge threat to opponents in Twenty20s. But that’s not quite the case. The man known across the world as one of the fiercest hitters of the ball has a rather poor Twenty20 record.

13 games. 249 runs. An average of 20.75. A handsome strike rate of 148.2. But only one score of 50+.

Why though?

The more you think about it, the more interesting it gets and the more you realise that you don’t really know Sehwag at all. And the story actually became interesting from almost the time when Sehwag started playing international cricket.

Prior to that, Delhi selectors were always iffy about him, because he was too attacking. Everyone thought he would be no good in the four-day Ranji games, because he wouldn’t be able to bat for long. He did.

When he emerged on the international stage in 1999, he made a name as a dasher straightaway. But in Tests, there was no room for him. Again, he was too much a hitter. It was only in November 2001 that the debut happened. Bloemfontein. He scored 105 on debut. At a strike rate of 60! Where had the fire gone?

But it was only a matter of time. From number six, he was promoted to the top of the batting order, and that’s where Sehwag finally blossomed. First in ODIs, then in Tests as well. And today, in Tests he averages 52.5, while in ODIs, he languishes at 33.9.

To return to the original question: why though?

Is it because Sehwag is at his best when there are more fielders up close than in the boundary? Can’t be. He clears the field brilliantly even when there are fielders in the deep. In Mumbai for example, he played with a spread out field for the most part and got to within 7 runs of a third triple century.

I think it’s because for Sehwag, hitting a boundary or two every six deliveries is not a big deal. It’s when the demand is more that he starts getting hassled. I think he likes setting the agenda, not when the agenda is set for him. In Tests, a boundary every over is good enough. Sehwag will give you two. In T20s, the demand is at least three, and Sehwag feels under pressure to perform.

Why I think this is true is also that Sehwag is not the best batsman around in the third or fourth innings of a Test. When the asking rate and target is set out for him, Sehwag is half the batsman he otherwise is. Let him bat without numbers muddling his brain, Sehwag is possibly the most exciting batsman in the world. Any other situation, you have a better chance by asking him not to bat.