Will the wheel of fortune turn full circle for Virender Sehwag in the Perth Test?

Perhaps the Sehwag school of batting doesn’t work even for Sehwag outside the subcontinent. The fact that he has not struck a century outside the subcontinent since Adelaide 2008 is a case in point © Getty Images

By Madan Mohan


A naughty cat-and-mouse game between two famous commentators sums up Virender Sehwag and how much he polarises opinions. Ravi Shastri and Ian Chappell were on air during the second Test at Sydney when Michael Clarke twice played and missed a long way away from the body on the offside. Chappell asked mockingly if Clarke was following the Sehwag school of batting. The remark was dripping with sarcasm, but Shastri weaved out of the way, protesting, “No, no! Sehwag school of batting is for Sehwag and Sehwag only.”


While teary-eyed farewells are being given to the Big Three, who are at least not expected to play a Test series in Australia again, one man has been strangely off colour and out of action. It’s hard to keep Sehwag out of the limelight, but the only thing lately that has got him into it are rumours of him being a divisive force in the Indian dressing room. As he prepares to perform at the very venue where he began his comeback, his rich vein of form seems to have deserted him…in Test cricket.


When Sehwag was dropped from the Test side in 2006, it was said that he was punished for his ODI form. It now seems to be his ODI form that has saved him. In 2011, he scored two centuries and a fifty and averaged 54. No doubt his record-breaking 219 against the West Indies beefed his average, as did another century against Bangladesh. But even quickfire 30s and 40s elsewhere count in ODIs and Sehwag has remained one of India’s best options for the opening slot in ODIs.


His Test form has been nowhere near that lustrous. In 2011, he managed only 384 runs from 13 innings at an average of nearly 30. Of four half centuries that he struck last year, three were against an inexperienced West Indies side at home. He has not scored a century since November 2010, when he scored 173 against New Zealand at Ahmedabad. His last away century was against Sri Lanka in August 2010. But here’s the shocker: he has not struck a century outside the subcontinent since Adelaide 2008!


Since that famous Test series in Australia, Sehwag has played Test series in New Zealand, South Africa, England and now the ongoing one in Australia. His chancy 67 in Melbourne is his highest score outside the subcontinent since that fighting 151 at Adelaide in 2008. His only other half century was a 63 at Centurion. That innings did not launch a successful tour of South Africa for him. India would hope the Melbourne knock does not meet the same fate. As the above indicates, his disastrous return to cricket in England was not a one off; just normal services as far as tours go.


So, what’s the next step? Lock, stock and drop? Irrespective of whether that happens, it appears as if he needs to change his approach. Perhaps, the Sehwag school of batting doesn’t work even for Sehwag outside the subcontinent. The new ball bowlers get some purchase in countries like Australia and England and Sehwag is bound to be at the receiving end as an opener. But if he sees off the new ball shine, he may find a long day ahead of him to make merry.


An approach he adopted in the 2003-04 tour of Australia, strangely enough. After a patient start, he capitalised on great batting conditions to score 195 in the first innings at Melbourne. For the record, at the end of the 20th over, India’s score was 42 for no loss and Sehwag was on 16 off 53 balls!


Contrary to the popular notion, it would not be curbing Sehwag’s natural game to suggest that he ought to be patient early on. Because he used to do that earlier in his career! At Melbourne, his 195 eventually came off 233 balls, a strike rate of nearly 84.


As thrilling as it may be for spectators to watch Sehwag go for a boundary off the first delivery of the innings, such an approach is neither in his nor the team’s interests. India are 0-2 behind in Australia and need a good start from Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. They don’t need him to set up a win with a blitzkrieg for the moment.


When he made a promising comeback at Perth in 2008 and followed it with a century at Adelaide, Chappell and Anil Kumble, among others, were vindicated in their insistence that he ought to be part of the team. Circa January 2012, he needs to summon some of that inspiration and put runs on the board for the team to make this series less of a surrender Down Under. Perth 2008 was verily a baptism by fire then, for all that he was already an established player. Will hostility and adversity once again bring out the best from Sehwag?


(Madan Mohan, a 25-year old CA from Mumbai, is passionate about writing, music and cricket. Writing on cricket is like the icing on the cake)