December 3, 2009. Virender Sehwag’s bazooka like bat boomed mightily as the Sri Lankans were left battered, bruised and befuddled. Arunabha Sengupta looks back at the spectacular 293 scored at the Brabourne Stadium, the array of strokes that reverberate in our minds till this day.
Few teams have scored seven runs short of 400 in the first innings and stared at looming defeat at the end of the second day of a Test match.
Few teams have scored seven runs short of 400 in the first innings and brought on their legendary spinner in the last over before lunch on the second day with men stationed at the edge of the boundary.
A couple of decades earlier, many teams would have been happy with 284 runs in 82 overs.
But all that was before a tidal wave called Virender Sehwag started crashing on bowling sides with the full force that left them scattered in red blotches across different sections of the stands. And with the billowing buffets of his bazooka like bat, the longstanding landscape of Test match cricket was altered forever.
Sri Lanka knew all about Sehwag. They knew about his ability to destroy to bits, to launch on a merciless rampage leaving the opponents in various stages of shell-shocked surrender. However, when Pragyan Ojha’s ball straightened and caught Chanaka Welegedara plumb in front, captain Kumar Sangakkara would have been justified in flashing a contented smile. A score of 393 would take some chasing, with India supposed to bat fourth at the Brabourne Stadium. After all, Muttiah Muralitharan was itching to have a go, and Rangana Herath could lend more than a helping hand.
And then the team ran into a Sehwag operating at a level of carnage beyond the most morbid of fantasies.
The pre-lunch mayhem
Initially though, it was calm before the most violent of storms to ever lash against the Sri Lankan team — perhaps also on the coast of Arabian Sea. Sehwag started slowly — not only by his standards. There had been one on-drive for four off Nuwan Kulasekara, but overall he had seemed deceptively on the quieter side. The first 33 balls saw him get just 15. Welegedara beat him outside the off-stump and sent through another testing delivery that he just about managed to play to the off side. And then the dam broke and out poured the tumult.
There was a crashing drive through the covers. And a single that meant Sehwag would face the first over bowled by Herath in the match. The second ball from the left-arm spinner was flighted and it was lofted over long-on for six. After that, the longest period Sehwag stayed without sending the ball screaming to the boundary was 12 balls.
When Murali was introduced, in the over before lunch, Sehwag had already passed 50. On his way he had stretched forward and lofted Herath to the sight screen to bring up his 6,000 runs in Test cricket. There had been boundaries all around, some crashed through the off-side, and some expertly worked away through the field on the leg-side. He hit the ball hard, but there was seldom the semblance of a slog. It was all uncanny placement and exceptional timing. Murali started with a long-on right on the edge of the rope. It was the 17th over, and India were on 85.
The post-lunch murder
After the break, Sehwag started with a delicate late-cut off Angelo Matthews. And when Muralitharan flighted it with a packed leg side field, he reverse swept him past the point. It was not a pre-meditated swipe. The intention was to find the gaps. And Sehwag knew exactly where they were.
Muralitharan made his deliveries dip at the end of the flight, hurrying Sehwag, forcing him to push them back. And the Najafgarh man responded by reaching out and chipping him over cover for four. Any width on offer resulted in violent cuts past point, both off the faster men and the slow. And when Muralitharan tossed it up a bit too much, Sehwag came charging down, with his bludgeon of a bat tracing the full arc, the ball disappearing over long-off.
And amidst all this display of power, Muralitharan was swept fine, with nifty placement, to bring up his hundred. It had taken 101 balls. With Murali Vijay going steadily at the other end, the score was 183 for no loss.
Muralitharan tried the last trick in his sleeve. The flighted ball was a devious doosra. Sehwag chipped him over extra cover for four. The next ball was shorter, again a doosra. The batsman read it perfectly, and presented a defensive bat. Muralitharan smiled, Sehwag smiled back. The battle had been won. Both of them knew it. The man with the bat was seeing through all the mysteries. The off-spinner’s figures read none for 56 from nine overs.
It was now Herath’s turn to suffer once again. He was pummelled high and handsome over long on for six. And when he fired one wide outside leg with a packed field on the leg side, Sehwag pulled out the reverse sweep once again, crashing it past cover point.
Vijay, having paced his innings with maturity that reflected well on the youngster, now fell leg-before trying to sweep a straight ball from Herath. The first wicket was down at 221.
However, Sehwag was not affected. One wonders if he even noticed the departure of Vijay and the arrival of Dravid. The pacemen were hammered now. Balls on the stumps were dispatched through mid-wicket. The ones with tiniest amount of width slammed past cover or point. In just 30 balls after reaching 100, he had moved to 151. India went in to tea with the score on 261 for one. The desultory, dazed Sri Lankans clung on to a faint glimmer of hope. For the past few minutes Sehwag had been clutching his back, running singles gingerly.
The post-tea massacre
Yet, when Herath commenced after tea, bowling on the legs from over the wicket, Sehwag jumped out and flayed him past long off for four. The Lankans winced. It would be a long afternoon.
Welegedara ran in and banged one short. It was nonchalantly upper cut over slip for four. And when he pitched up, he was dispatched over extra cover, the ball landing in the crowd.
For some reason, this kicked off a phase of relative sanity. Sehwag scored just 18 off the next 22 balls, with only a couple of fours — one of them a whack over mid-off essayed off Welegedara. He was on 184 from 162 balls when Kulasekara started the 57th over of the innings.
The first ball was short and Sehwag mistimed his favourite cut shot. It was a dot. Perhaps that was the personal signal that he was not living up to his standards. The next ball was flashed past point in a blinding streak. The following delivery went square on the leg side, and Angelo Matthews was a shade too late to bend and stop it on the boundary. Kulasekara sent the next one drifting down the leg side and was neatly glanced for four. There was a hastily run two off an inside edged drive off the next ball. And the final ball of the over after that was hoisted high over mid-wicket for four. Sehwag had got 18 from the over, and had reached his sixth double hundred. It had taken 168 balls. India were on 330 for one.
Boundaries continued. Some walloped, some caressed, all with the same ease. Muralitharan was clattered over long-on for six, and by this time many had given up counting the fours and sixes. Sehwag continued to sashay down the wicket and pummel the bowlers over the infield. And once in a while he brought off a delicate late cut. And to liven things up — as if the mayhem was not enough for excitement — he reverse paddled Muralitharan through the vacant slip area. That audacious stroke brought up the 250 off 207 deliveries. The display of fireworks had produced 35 fours and seven sixes.
At the other end, Dravid had compiled an almost apologetic half-century. Few noticed the other batsman anyway.
At long last, with his score on 264, Sehwag showed some glimpses of mortality. Angelo Matthews bowled a slower one and it took the edge of the bat and hastened to the third-man fence. The next over saw Muralitharan at last inducing a nick, another attempted full blooded swipe over long-on went streakily through the vacant slip region.
And in following over, Sehwag offered his only chance of the day. Tillakaratne Dilshan got one to turn into the stumps, and the batsman tried to cut it late. It flew fast and at knee height to Mahela Jayawardene at slip. By then perhaps the eyes of the fielders were glued to the stratosphere. The chance was grassed.
These were symptoms that the electric speed had taken its toll. The flesh and blood was finally showing under the several layers of genius. Sehwag permitted himself just another boundary that day, a fierce thrash through the covers. It was his 40th four, alongside the seven sixes. He was content to have Dravid face most of the final few overs. The day ended with India on 443 for one from 79 overs, Sehwag unbeaten on 284 from 238 deliveries, 16 short of an unprecedented third triple-century. Had he got those 16 runs on that very day, he would have only been the second batsman after Don Bradman to score a triple hundred in a single day’s play in Test cricket.
It was the end of the most spectacular day’s play. The Sri Lankans walked back in a state of stupor, punch-drunk from the assault. Yet, even they knew that they had been fringe characters of a most amazingly scripted page of history.
The following morning saw the anticlimactic finale of a magical tale.
After Sehwag had scored another nine strikingly sedate runs, Muralitharan bowled round the wicket and made one dip on him. Sehwag reached out and pushed at it. The ball was scooped back to the bowler. Muralitharan grabbed at it and it popped out of his grasp, but the great man managed to latch on to it. Sehwag’s great innings ended on 293, scored off 254 balls in six minutes over six hours. The stadium rose as one to applaud him all the way back to the pavilion. It was perhaps the greatest and most miraculous exhibition of murder and mayhem they would ever witness.
And the man himself? He did display some anguish as he was dismissed. But, soon the expression faded into a smile. He was Sehwag after all. He seldom dwelt on the last ball.
Sri Lanka 393 (Tharanga Paranavitana 53, Tilakaratne Dilshan 109, Angelo Matthews 99, Prasanna Jayawardene 43; Harbhajan Singh 4 for 112) and 309 (Tharanga Paranavitana 54, Kumar Sangakkara 137; Zaheer Khan 5 for 72) lost to India 726 for 9 decl. (Murali Vijay 87, Virender Sehwag 293, Rahul Dravid 74, Sachin Tendulkar 53, VVS Laxman 62, MS Dhoni 100*; Muttiah Muralitharan 4 for 195) by an innings and 24 runs
(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)
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