Sehwag combines savagery with aesthetics

Virender Sehwag mersmerised us all one more time with his range of strokeplay, toying with the New Zealand attack as well as M/s Duckworth and Lewis in the fourth one-day international game in Hamilton on Wednesday. He made batting look so simple; and the hapless New Zealand bowlers pedestrian as India claimed the series with a match on hand.

He breezed to the fastest ODI hundred by an Indian – he needed just 60 deliveries at the Seddon Park – with a display of clean hitting that is unlikely to be forgotten in a hurry. His opening partner in the 201 run stand, Gautam Gambhir made 63 runs at nearly a run a ball but that seemed so slow against Sehwag’s 125 off 74 balls.

There was one mistimed drive for six off left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori and one edge to the ‘keeper Peter McGlashan but all other strokes were played off the meat of his 1200gm bat. It was a savage innings and, even if it is an oxymoron, there was an aesthetic appeal to his innings. He has entertained before but this one will have to be top of the drawer stuff.

For someone who kept the hook and pull wrapped in cotton wool for ages – to the point that bowlers believed he was weak against the short ball – he has played the two shots at will on the tour. We did get to see a sample in the home series against England but it is almost as if he has undertaken the trip with the sole intent of showing the world how well he can play these strokes.

Before emplaning for New Zealand, Sehwag said the tracks there did not suit his batting style at all. And he was clearly drawing on his 2002-03 experience when the home side laid out seaming pitches and though he managed two hundreds in seven one-day internationals, he also picked up four failures, including three single-digit scores. The two Tests were disastrous too.

The tracks on offer now have surprised not just him but also the team’s whole batting unit – and perhaps shocking the bowlers who would have expected some lively surfaces to bowl on. I can see two reasons for that. India’s pace bowling attack – especially the pair of Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma – can be lethal while New Zealand’s own bowling appears thin.

More importantly, I think New Zealand Cricket realises that it is important to roll out tracks that facilitate entertainment (read batting onslaught). There is no doubt that cricket boards around the world want the Indian team to do well on their soil so that the crowds flock to the grounds and the TV audience in India stays glued to the action.