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Virender Sehwag still the second most destructive batsman in history in terms of strike-rate

Virender Sehwag (born October 20, 1978) turns 34 today. Looking back at his extraordinary career so far, and taking his recent run of poor scores into account. Arunabha Sengupta concludes  that this may be the right time for the dasher to take a keen look at his own game.

A birthday is the time for celebration – of rejoicing in the gift of life, promising oneself yet again to live it to the fullest.

Sadly, to certain entertainers characterised by their eternal zest, the landmark of a year gone by is often unkind. Virender Sehwag, one of the most thrilling batsmen to walk on the planet, falls into this category. The weight of advancing years may be too heavy a burden for the free spirit that has so far lent spark to his batting.

The cricket world still reverberates with the thundering deeds of his willow, and there are plenty who feel he is still a force to reckon with. In many quarters, his bazooka of a bat is expected to plunder runs off shell-shocked attacks.

Indeed there is reason enough for such lingering awe. It is not an idle claim that Sehwag is one of the most exciting batsmen ever, one who revolutionised Test match batting.
The difference Sehwag made

To back the Najafgarh Nuke’s phenomenal deeds with figures, one needs only to look at the speed at which he scores. For all batsmen who have scored at least 1000 Test runs at an average greater than 20, his strike rate of 82.17 is second only to Shahid Afridi’s 86.97.

Yes, he did manage to squeeze ahead of Adam Gilchrist during the last year in spite of his ordinary form. And, lest we forget, he scores at that phenomenal rate while opening the batting and averaging more than 50.

Among regular openers in the history of Test cricket, the one who comes closest is the legendary Victor Trumper, whose strike rate can be estimated to be somewhere between 67 and 68. Trumper scored his runs at 39 per innings, which is more than decent for the era he played in (1899-1912).

Virender Sehwag still the second most destructive batsman in history in terms of strike-rate

Virender Sehwag is, who celebrates his 34th birthday today, may out of form, but he is still remains one of the most destructive batsmen in the game © Getty Images

Sanath Jayasuriya managed an average of 40, and is remembered for scoring at a breathtaking rate, yet his strike rate stands at 65.2. And for all his buccaneering approach, Krishnamachari Srikkanth did not score faster than 65 runs per 100 balls, while his average was an unremarkable 29. Tilakaratne Dilshan, the other modern slam-bang opener, thus far scores just a bit faster, at a strike rate of 66.

Seen in this light, Sehwag’s 8306 runs hurtling along at a strike rate of 82.17 and an average of 50 can be considered close to miraculous. The only other batsmen who break the 80s barrier are Afridi (strike rate 86.97, average 36.51), Gilchrist (81.95, 47.60) and Kapil Dev (80.3, 31.05) – lower middle order batsmen and all-rounders.

Best strike-rates in Test history

Batsman

Runs

Ave

Strike Rate

Shahid Afridi

1716

36.51

86.97

Virender Sehwag

8306

50.64

82.17

Adam Gilchrist

5570

47.60

81.95

Kapil Dev

5248

31.05

80.3*

Maurice Tate

1198

25.48

75.5*

JH Sinclair

1069

23.23

71-72*

Viv Richards

8540

50.23

68.9*

Victor Trumper

3163

39.04

67-68*

Tilakratne Dilshan

5028

41.21

65.91

Sanath Jayasuriya

6973

40.07

65.2*

* denotes estimated

To look at it with a different perspective, let us recall that the famed destroyer of all bowling, Viv Richards, ended with an average slightly less than what Sehwag boasts now, while scoring at 68.9 runs per hundred balls.

There can be many arguments regarding flat pitches and plummeting quality of bowling, but even then, quality returns at breakneck speed take some doing. Without doubt Sehwag’s achievements till date, irrespective of his longish slump in form, are incredible.
Dangerous signs

Yet, along with the usual cheer and felicitations and remembrances of the glory past, on this birthday will also loom the shadow of unhappy portents.

For a batsman who has always relied upon hand-eye coordination, and has steadfastly refused to change his approach to flow with the tide of time, 34 is not really an auspicious age – especially when fitness has never been too high on the list of priorities.

The effect of age on his maverick approach is already making ugly dents on the bottom-line.

If we look the way his figures have progressed as he has aged, we find that the trough of the last two years is indeed alarming. He has had poor runs, but never this long. Since November 2010, he has gone 30 innings without a century. The last four series have brought him 612 runs at 23.54.

Sehwag’s career in calendar years

Year

Age

Tests

Runs

Ave

Strike Rate

100

50

2001

23

4

235

47.00

65.27

1

1

2002

23-24

10

637

39.81

72.63

2

3

2003

24-25

5

522

52.20

73.21

2

0

2004

25-26

12

1141

63.38

73.61

3

4

2005

26-27

8

785

60.38

78.42

2

2

2006

27-28

12

791

39.55

84.96

2

2

2007

28-29

1

44

22.00

83.01

0

0

2008

29-30

14

1462

56.23

85.84

3

6

2009

30-31

6

631

70.11

108.98

2

1

2010

31-32

14

1422

61.82

90.8

5

8

2011

32-33

7

384

29.53

80.16

0

4

2012

33

5

252

28.00

85.13

0

1

It does seem that since turning 32, the vim and vigour of his intentions are not being translated into runs by the fraying magic of his slightly slower hands and older eyes.

Looking at his figures with greater scrutiny, one can perhaps argue that the dip may have had more to do with the cricket calendar rather than his personal one. But for five Tests against West Indies and New Zealand at home, two of the recent Test series were played in South Africa and England, countries where the opener has always been, at best, mediocre.

It is the last series in Australia which makes one uneasy. Previously, he did get runs in that country – he had success in 2003-4 while roosting at the peak of his powers, and in 2007-8 by applying himself with a sense of purpose, scoring at a markedly mortal strike rate of 64.26.

So, even Sehwag is not beyond changing his style to suit circumstances. The excellent 151 at Adelaide was made when he was coming off the lean patch of 2005 and 2006. In this context, his current attempts to blast every attack out of the ground in spite of the spate of debacles come across as obstinacy – which can be fatal to a hard-hitter.
Time for a change in approach?

One wonders whether he is still mentally stuck in the 2008-10 period, when scoring faster and faster even by his own rollicking standards brought him more and more runs. This may have influenced his approach, making it inflexible within its simple, uncluttered expanse.

He has two distinct examples in front of him, of two of the greatest ever batsmen, both blessed with excellent hand-eye coordination.

Viv Richards continued to play in the same way at 38 as when he was 25, and his career figures plummeted in the last few years till he was considered a liability in the West Indian side.

At the other extreme is Sachin Tendulkar, who famously changed his game, earning a lot of carping critics but enjoying some of his best seasons from 2007 onwards, the precise moment when he himself had turned 34.

It is up to Sehwag to walk the path he chooses. Coming down the order may be another possible option to explore.

The see-ball hit-ball method may yet work on the home pitches, leading one into a false sense of security that all is well. Yet, it seems that some serious some soul searching on this birthday could go a long way in prolonging his excellent career.
 

Photo Gallery – Happy Birthday Virender Sehwag

(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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