Saturday, April 5, 2008

Three cheers once again

In 2004, he became the first Indian to score a triple century. This year, he became the third cricketer in the world, after Sir Don Bradman and Brian Lara, to have two triple hundreds to his credit. 
Abhijit Chatterjee
on attacking batsman Virender Sehwag’s astounding feat

Exactly four years ago Delhi batsman Virender Sehwag walked into the record books with a triple hundred, completed characteristically with a six, against Pakistan at Multan. That was no ordinary knock. No Indian, neither the greatest Indian batsman of all times, Sunil Gavaskar, nor "master blaster" Sachin Tendulkar, had reached the landmark. (And an insider says the only reason why Tendulkar does not yet talk of calling it a day is the fact that he desperately wants to have a triple century against his name so that he can better his role model Gavaskar).

That knock more than anything else that Sehwag had done till then, catapulted him into Indian cricket’s hall of fame. But the gutsy Delhi batsman went one better at Chennai on March 28 this year — he hammered the South African bowling all over the Chepauk stadium to record his second 300-plus knock and became the third batsman in the world to have attained this feat. And, whatever his critics may say, he still has a lot of cricket left in him.

The Chennai knock saw Sehwag joining the legendary Don Bradman, who has scores of 334 against England in 1930 and 304 against the same rivals at Headingley four years later. Joining Bradman decades later was Brian Lara with scores of 375 against England at Antigua in the 1993-94 season and yet another knock of 400 not out against the same team at the same venue in the 2003-04 season. Sehwag is thus the only batsman who has scored his triple hundreds against different opponents, Pakistan and then South Africa.

Of the two scores in two different venues against two bowling attacks of different nature, Sehwag says the Chennai knock was more difficult. "In Multan the wicket was better than the one at Chennai and the conditions were not hot and humid when we played there. I don't think I showed so much patience and concentration in Pakistan. I wanted to prove to myself that I belong here, and there is no better way than playing a big knock and scoring a triple century," he has been quoted as saying.

Sehwag admitted after the Herculean effort that being dropped from the India squad last year motivated him to do better. After a string of poor scores, Sehwag was dropped from the Test team to Bangladesh and was not considered for either the Test or One-Day side to England. But the disappointment of being dropped did not demoralise him. He went to play domestic cricket with a vengeance and further honed his temperament and cricketing skills.

In fact, everybody was surprised when he was picked for the tour of Australia after not finding a place even among the probables announced earlier.

Sehwag had to wait for two matches before he made a strong comeback in the Perth Test with scores of 29 and 43 and a haul of two wickets in Australia's second innings to play a keen role in India's historic win. He came into form in the Adelaide Test where he scored 63 and 151, to help India draw the match. And, his Chennai effort was just a continuation of what he had started in Australia.

But more than his big knocks, Sehwag is a star who is looked up to by many cricketers. Players believe that if Sehwag could make it big there is no reason why they too cannot do the same. After all, most of India's earlier cricket heroes came from affluent or middle class backgrounds, and attended English-medium schools. They also honed their cricketing skills in state-of-the-art academies. But Sehwag was different.

Sehwag is a typical player from a lower middle class family who has got everything in life from cricket. Sehwag was lucky that his parents could afford the Rs-100 fee charged by the government-owned cricket coaching centre where he learnt the basics of the game under N.A. Sharma. Today, Sehwag misses his father (who died in October last year) the most and he remains in touch with his mother wherever he might be playing. He often goes back to his old neighbourhood of Najafgarh on the outskirts of Delhi and mingles with the cricket trainees at his old coaching centre. He probably knows that the hunger to do well is ingrained in these boys much more than their more affluent counterparts.

When Sehwag hit the international arena in a One-Day match against Pakistan at the PCA at Mohali in 1999, his batting was fast and furious. He made his Test debut against South Africa at Bloemfontein on November 3, 2001, and celebrated the occasion with a century. At Chennai, he needed just 278 deliveries to reach his 300-run feat, a record other batsmen may find difficult to emulate. In fact, he completed his 100, his 200 as also his 300 (309 to be exact) on the same day. It is doubtful whether any other batsman, even Don, has such a knock against his name. Hayden took 362 deliveries to reach his triple century against Zimbabwe at Perth. While there is no record of the deliveries faced by the other triple century makers in cricket, it is estimated that Hammond of England needed 355 deliveries to reach his 300 against New Zealand in the 1932-33 series.

The most striking feature of Sehwag's batting is the ease with which he dispatches balls all round the wicket. In the 14 innings in which he has scored a century, his strike rate has been 77.79. Among batsmen with at least 10 Test hundreds, only Australian wicketkeeper Adam Gilchrist has a faster strike rate in centuries (99.64). The fact that Sehwag's overall career strike rate is 75 also reveals his tendency to bat with the same tempo regardless of his score. During the last tour of the West Indies, he came excruciatingly close to scoring a century before lunch on the first day of the Test at St Lucia, something never accomplished by an Indian batsman.

By the time he had scored his first century in One-Day cricket (a furious effort off 70 balls against New Zealand) and Test cricket, as mentioned earlier against South Africa, Sehwag was compared with Tendulkar. But he leaves the maestro far behind when it comes to audacity. Asked to open the innings in the 2002 Test tour of England, Sehwag proved an instant hit, cracking 80 and 100 in the first two matches.

Though he continued to dominate the Test arena, his One-Day form dipped dramatically. After January 2004, he went through 60 matches where he averaged just 29. He has now made a comeback into the One-Day squad and in-between also played a role in India's win in the Twenty20 World Championship. And the Chennai knock must have given a huge boost to his confidence.

The most striking feature of his batting is the ease with which he sends the ball to all parts of the ground and beyond. It is this ability which has stood him in good stead ever since he burst on the international stage. And this, indeed, is his most enduring trait.