VIRENDER SEHWAG- A PERFECT INDIAN TEST MATCH

The last test double century scored by an Indian Test batsman before Pujara’s effort in Ahmedabad, was scored by Sachin Tendulkar back in October 2010.

Therefore, it is no coincidence that Sehwag’s last triple-figure test match score, too, was in the same month. His lean patch, lasting for over two years after that, coincides with Indian Test Cricket’s leanest patch in more than 20 years. The tour to South Africa, England and Australia resulted in just 1 win, and 9 losses with a draw- with Sehwag virtually absent for the England tour.

In normal circumstances, back when the Indian team was managing to not lose abroad between 2003-2010, Sehwag never went for more than 1.5 years at a time without crossing the 200-mark. 200 was the new 100 for him, and 300- the new double. He remained the only active batsman with two triple centuries- one Home and one abroad- coming closest to scoring a third in Mumbai with arguably Test Cricket’s most destructive innings- the unforgettable 293 (284 in one day).

For a Test-match opener riled consistently for his lack of consistency abroad, before 2010, Sehwag averages a very stellar 49.5 overseas- after which the entire team decided to implode after his own failures at the top. He remains the only Indian test batsman with two doubles and 1 triple century overseas- his latest double century coming against Sri Lanka at Galle in 2008. But it is also notable that all these mammoth scores have come in the sub-continent, at Multan, Galle and Lahore, apart from a couple of 150s at Adelaide. These are the kind of stats that give his critics plenty of fodder when India leaves the sub-continent, with him averaging only 21 over the last two years in such circumstances.

India’s problems have always begun at the top, with Sachin Tendulkar not being their most influential Test batsman over his long career. Rahul Dravid, the repairer-in-chief for a major part of the last decade, has been India’s go-to man in most situations that involve a Sehwag failure. That he was destined to be a hit-and-miss player in limited-overs cricket was obvious, but his success in Test match cricket surprised an entire generation that couldn’t look past the Dasguptas, Rameshs and Bangars as defensive options at the top. His failures were magnified, because of his devil-may-care style, but not very often did he go for a year without a defining Indian Test Score. Everytime he crossed 150, atleast another 100 quick runs and a victory was on the cards. A failure to win after that was due to the Indian bowlers’ lack of penetration in the post-Kumble era.

But who can forget his debut 105 at Bloemfontein, or his patient 106 at Nottingham- both early efforts in his career, when he was establishing himself as a regular in the Test line-up, still searching for his 100+ strike-rate identity. Then came his explosive 195 at Adelaide, a test match that India went on to lose, where he was blamed for scoring ‘too quickly’ and giving the Australians enough time to make merry. That the Indian team didn’t cross 400 that inning, was forgotten. For the next few years, he made merry against Pakistan on their own turf, before failing miserably against South Africa in the 2006 series under Greg Chappell- his poorest phase in Test Cricket, where he was duly dropped after a string of low scores.

He has been struggling to find consistent form overseas thereafter, with another Adelaide effort in 2008 marking his comeback to the team. A lot of half-starts and brisk cameos have gone unnoted, most of them at Home, and his failure to score a century against a weak West Indian and NZ team at Home over the last year set the alarm bells ringing.

A Ranji century for Delhi, followed by a run-a-ball 118 against England at Motera may not be the final solution, but it still underlines the fact (after which India went on to score over 500 again) that he remains the country’s most influential Test opener since Sunil Gavaskar- a fact that has brought about his recent downfall. A single first-innings failure influences the result of the game on the first day so blatantly, that it all comes down to his inability to convert starts. And possibly, India’s greatest batsman in Home conditions to have ever played Test Cricket. His first-innings Home average of 89 demonstrates his frontrunning abilities, with his positives always trumping negatives (second innings average, especially overseas).

A Sehwag start still remains the most priceless commodity in Indian Test Cricket. If that doesn’t happen, the team struggles to enforce a result. Dravid’s shoes can be filled by Pujara over time, Gambhir will soon be replaced by Rahane or Vijay, but Virender Sehwag can never be replaced unless Adam Gilchrist is reincarnated as a right-hander in India.

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