S. Ram Mahesh
The dashing opener has transformed his batting with the addition of pull stroke
Hamilton: India’s first One-Day International series triumph in New Zealand is an achievement of significant scale, but an autopsy examining it in detail can wait.
There’s the small matter of a dead rubber —the fifth ODI in Auckland on Saturday — to be dealt with before that. What can’t wait, however, is a discussion on Virender Sehwag’s evolution into a super batsman. But he’s already super, goes the refrain.
Perhaps the statement needs rephrasing: this is an attempt to record that Sehwag has reached the stage where his mastery is all-inclusive. This is also an attempt that can swiftly and perilously get derailed by definitions of greatness. But this hasn’t the scope for a nuanced debate on greatness, so a primer must suffice.
There are all manners of greatness — frankly more than you can shake a bat at — and if you were to run a thumb down the list of batsmen, who, by common consent, have achieved greatness, you would find a wide range of talent, temperament, genius, and style. There are certain commonalities of course, but the point being made here is that greatness can be achieved without having achieved completeness.
Sehwag has considerable claims to greatness in Test cricket. But, as a pure batsman, he had yet to attain completeness. The opener’s genius has never been in doubt. Indeed, you’d be hard-pressed to find another who inspiration visits so frequently.
There were also no doubts of his ability in adversity — both tangible, pertaining to the conditions and the bowling, and intangible, relating to circumstance. In fact, its Sehwag’s facility for natural expression under duress — a freedom of skilful stroke-making rarely seen under pressure — that makes him so unique.
But Sehwag, before this tour, hadn’t offered evidence that he was, as Barry Richards said of Sir Garfield Sobers, a 360 degrees player.
Richards had referred to both the range and the actual physical shape of Sobers’s batting, that is to say, the areas Sobers commanded in terms of where he could send a ball, and the actual act of getting the ball there, as seen from back-lift to follow-through.
If one could be so bold, one could extend the definition of the modern 360 degrees player to include, apart from range and physical shape, format. In this light, it can be seen why Sehwag might have been perceived as just short of completeness.
His method of staying beside the line, leg-side of the ball, allowed him to cleave the off-side field like few before. But it left him open to the break-back, which, without the threat of a punishing pull shot, was dispensed freely by bowlers who could. Also for some reason — he himself put it down to over-reaching — Sehwag hadn’t realised one-day returns commensurate with his ability.
From the evidence of Napier, Wellington, and Hamilton, Sehwag appears to have cured both — presumably unrelated — shortcomings.
And done so without outraging his true nature, which is the most important thing, for in remedying a dripping pipe a sink might burst.
The pull stroke is a versatile, valuable weapon, and in cultivating the stroke, Sehwag hasn’t merely added a dimension — he has transformed forever his batting.
As he said with typical economy of words, “They are bowling into my body and I’m playing my pull shot to get boundaries. There is no other way they can bowl to me.”
The pull stroke doesn’t just fetch boundaries, it draws the ball to drive, and Sehwag is a past master at driving.
How had he added the pull stroke to his repertoire?
“I don’t know how it comes or where it comes from,” said Sehwag. “But I manage to hit the ball.”
Truer words haven’t been spoken — exasperating as it may be, it’s impossible to penetrate, with the mind, the mysteries of creation.
The reasons behind his improved returns in one-day cricket are just as difficult to ascertain, so one may as well let him have the last word.
“Nothing has changed,” said Sehwag. “I still play 70-75 balls and score 100 runs, it’s just a matter of if it’s your day. If it’s your day, then you can score 100. If it’s not your day you get out.”