Sehwag: The power of positive batting
Whoever decided to convert Virender Sehwag into a Test match opener should be awarded two medals; one for bravery and another for being astute.
Sehwag's brand of smash and grab batting; smash the ball and grab the headlines is not only exciting for the fans it also creates winning opportunities for India. It takes a keen observer of the game to realise the many positives an aggressive opener brings to a cricket team.
However, it also requires enormous courage to endure the criticism on the occasions a batsman of that ilk plays an irrational shot when he appears to have the bowling at his mercy. Very few people have the vision required to see a daring middle-order shot maker as a potentially destructive opener and the list is narrowed even further when the criticism flows in times of failure. This becomes especially galling when everyone bathes in the glory on the days the experiment is a rip roaring success. It's a vision more often associated with the scientific arena than a cricket ground.
Fortunately during Sehwag's tenure there has been plenty to smile about and only a short period to endure the taunts. His only rough patch came when New Zealand's Shane Bond threatened to reduce his average to something resembling the 007 of the bowler's movie namesake. His apparent odd couple pairing with Akash Chopra has been a resounding success and in a sequence of thirteen innings Sehwag has added consistency to a previously two worded CV - "explosively dangerous". Since he was joined by Chopra, Sehwag has even managed to outscore the prolific Rahul Dravid so that India now has a batting order containing the Wall, the Destroyer, the little Master and the Very, Very Special.
Never mind the odd couple this is the quartet of quality. In his last five Test innings Sehwag has exceeded two hundred runs on the opening day of a match and damn near done it a second time. That's a throw back to the consistently dynamic scoring rates of Sir Donald Bradman. That's not an exaggeration because there are precious few opening batsmen capable of such a regularly explosive start to a match.
I found only Victor Trumper, Gordon Greenidge, Michael Slater and Sanath Jayasuriya with the potential to achieve the feat against the better attacks. Perhaps you could add Matthew Hayden and Herschelle Gibbs facing some lesser lights and there are probably a couple of other old-timers apart from Trumper but its still an exclusive list. And that's a list of
players with the potential to achieve the feat; none of them has actually done it but Sehwag came closest and he's the one most likely to break the barrier.
When successful, aggressive openers have a devastating affect on the opposition whilst uplifting their own team. An opposing skipper, no matter how reluctant, has to be extremely bold to ignore the flow of boundaries and keep an attacking field. And no matter how much he holds his nerve, once a captain pushes the field back for an aggressive batsman he has a tendency not to return to full attacking mode for the less talented player.
Team-mates batting with Sehwag enjoy the luxury of not having to worry about the scoring rate and because he's a good runner-between-wickets they find it relatively easy to keep feeding him the strike. The one thing that can disrupt a stroke maker's momentum is an extended period at the non-striker's end. His success on the Australian tour has given him great confidence, resulting in a tighter defence and a greater understanding of his own strengths and weaknesses. He now plays to his strengths and is extremely uncomplicated in both method and thinking.
Sehwag will occasionally be troubled by a top-class bowler but I doubt he'll ever have to contend with ulcers; he appears to be worried by nothing. His coach John Wright is a great admirer but he once suggested to Sehwag his position in the team might be in jeopardy if he didn't stop throwing away his wicket. When asked for Sehwag's response Wright chuckled, "He smiled as if to say just watch me next time." Sehwag is the type of explosive opening batsman who attracts people to cricket grounds and ensures they're always seated before the first ball is bowled. And being a fan of Sehwag you don't have to sit through a day and half of play to witness a double century. In other words his is not the sort of batting you deserve a medal for watching.