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Viru enigma: Test success & ODI instability

Let’s first make sense of what makes Viru tick in the longer format, because it is the exact opposite of this that explains his instability in the shorter formats. Sehwag’s game is built around hitting boundaries.

india Updated: Aug 16, 2010 00:20 IST
Aakash Chopra

Sample this -- Malinga bowls a barrage of well-directed bouncers, Viru refuses to bite. He ducks or moves away from the line every single time. Malinga keeps him quiet for a few deliveries but Viru rejects the temptation to go for the kill, instead waits for the ball to pitch in his area of dominance. And when the moment arrives, he abandons restraint. He does so not because he has played a few dot balls but because the ball ought to be hit and he obliges. That’s Virender Sehwag for you in Test cricket.

Change the colour of the ball from red to white and the clothing from white to blue, the same Sehwag would not only bite but might also succumb. Viru boasts a mammoth 7000 runs in both Tests and ODIs, yet his lack of consistency in the shorter format continues to be a bane. Ironically, his batting seems to be tailor-made for the slam-bang shorter format. So, what’s the logic behind such patchy performances in ODI?

Let’s first make sense of what makes Viru tick in the longer format, because it is the exact opposite of this that explains his instability in the shorter formats. Sehwag’s game is built around hitting boundaries.

However defensive the fielding captain is, it’s imperative to start with attacking field positions, which mean all bad balls and good shots reach the fence. Contrary to the popular belief Sehwag not only has a specific plan but also the discipline to follow it to the T.

Delhi had lost an early wicket in an inconsequential Ranji game against Orissa. The track was wet and had plenty in it for the quicks. In came Viru, danced down the track and played a wild slog, missing the ball by a mile. I went to reason it out with him. To my utter disbelief he said he’d missed the ball on purpose because the chances of connecting cleanly were minimal. Instead, he wanted the bowler to pitch it short on the following delivery. The bowler fell for it, obliged and Viru smashed him for four. This incident followed by quite a few like these gave me an insight into Viru’s mind. After all, he doesn’t keep it as simple as it looks, at least not at the planning level.

But an inverse logic is brought into action in ODIs. Sehwag doesn’t have the same planning in place or the patience to follow it, for he believes that it’s almost mandatory to up the ante. Even if he’s hit two fours in an over, he believes he must go for the third one. His success in Tests lies in choosing the right balls to hit and not in hitting every single ball, which he tries to do in an ODI. He plays shots like the pull and the hook which don’t come naturally to him. He would take the aerial route not because it was the need of the hour but because that’s what you must do in shorter formats, or so he feels.

Whatever may be the reason for his not climbing the summit in the shorter formats, he must find a way out of it. For an average of less than 34 in ODIs won’t do justice to the talent this man possesses.