x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Consistency the key to Virender Sehwag's one-day form

Helpful batting tracks and consistency have raised the level of Virender Sehwag's performance in one-day cricket.

Virender Sehwag celebrates scoring his score of 219 against the West Indies.
Virender Sehwag celebrates scoring his score of 219 against the West Indies.

Suresh Raina, who added 140 with Virender Sehwag for the second wicket, is certain the record-breaking India batsman was singing Kishore Kumar songs as he flayed the West Indian bowling to all parts of the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore.

We do not know whether he chose Woh Shaam Kuch Ajeeb Thi ("That evening was strange") or Yeh Shaam Mastani ("This evening's magical"), but Raina's comment exemplified the batsmanship of a man who has smashed records with an insouciance that others can only envy one his way to a one-day best of 219.

In 2004, soon after he had scored the first of his Test triple-hundreds in Multan, Sehwag arrived in Colombo for the Asia Cup, saying that 200 in the 50-over format was perfectly plausible.

Instead of trying to fathom his logic, most slammed him for arrogance. It did not help that his highest score in the tournament was 81.

At that stage of his career, Sehwag in the one-day kit was quite the conundrum.

In theory, the 50-over game should have been his oyster, a Sunday picnic for a man whose Test strike rate of 82 dwarfs that of Sri Lanka's Sanath Jayasuriya, the West Indian Chris Gayle and many other big hitters at the top of the order.

Instead, it seemed almost too easy, and his performances were sporadic enough for him to be dropped soon after the World Cup debacle of 2007.

At that stage, Sehwag had played 175 games, averaging a mediocre 31.61.

Since his recall in November of the same year, he has managed to marry thrilling stroke play with impressive consistency.

For a man that bats like he does, the numbers are staggering - an average of 46.32 in 65 games. The strike rate (121.48) is beyond most batsmen in the Twenty20 arena.

Seven of his 15 centuries have also come in that time and such is the impact he has on games that India have only lost one match in which he has crossed three figures.

Along the way, he has also tilted at the 200-run windmill a couple of times.

In Rajkot a couple of years ago, against Sri Lanka, he was dismissed for 146 with nearly 15 overs still to be bowled.

And in the opening game of this year's World Cup, 15 deliveries remained when Bangladesh sent him back for 175.

Tendulkar's record was always going to be under threat if Sehwag batted through an innings. His ability to slap the good ball for four and to find gaps no matter how dispersed the fielders are is matchless in the modern game, and he remains blissfully immune to the nerves that afflict others when in sight of landmarks.

The philosophy that has served him so well in Tests - "I always tell myself to bat the full day, and if there is a ball to be hit, just hit it" - is now just as effective in one-day cricket.

But while Sehwag's achievement is lauded, it is not hard to understand why India struggle to produce bowlers of quality.

"I believe limited over games thrive on sixes and fours," said Samundar Singh Chauhan, the curator of the Indore pitch, who had also overseen the Gwalior one where Tendulkar made his 200 against South Africa last year.

"At the end of the day, it's all about entertainment. Spectators enjoy boundaries and I ensure they get them by preparing such pitches.

"Like most Indian pitches, the central strip at Indore has virtually no grass, thus offering little assistance for pace, bounce or lateral movement in the air. It is a pure batting track."

Pure batting track. Graveyard for bowlers. Two sides of one coin. And a prime reason why few Indians want to bowl fast. You would have to be a glutton for punishment on surfaces such as these.