Sehwag - the plus & the minus points

In Australia it has almost been the kiss of death for youngsters to be labelled another Bradman. It has been a cross which has destroyed many talented youngsters and it is equally as dangerous to compare Indian batsmen with Tendulkar. It is particularly tough on batsmen such as Sehwag, who is comparatively new to Indian cricket, said Bob Simpson in his column, Cricket Corner, for Sportstar (November 2, 2002).

Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag pictured here during the practice session at the Sardar Patel Stadium in Motera, Ahmebdad on November 13, 2012.   -  S. Subramanium

IS he as good as Sachin? This is probably the most asked question of me since I have been in India. The ‘He’, is of course Virender Sehwag and the question to me is irrelevant and not in the best interest of Virender.

In Australia it has almost been the kiss of death for youngsters to be labelled another Bradman. It has been a cross which has destroyed many talented youngsters and it is equally as dangerous to compare Indian batsmen with Tendulkar. It is particularly tough on batsmen such as Sehwag, who is comparatively new to Indian cricket.

Obviously, he is an exciting youngster whose exhilarating style has caught the imagination of the public. But, can this uninhibited approach allow him to maintain the consistency that is necessary to carve out a long career at the highest level? Make no mistake about it, every bowler in world cricket will be analysing this question and what he can do about it.

That is the way of bowlers and it has been going on since the game evolved. These days it is much easier with cable television, videos and the technical gadgets which allow you to analyse an opponent better than ever before.

Even now bowlers throughout the world will be exchanging mails with their thoughts on how to stop the flow of runs from this new wonder. It is nothing new and the bowlers’ grapevine is one of the most efficient gatherer of information in the world.

This is why the general consensus of opinion is, never evaluate the future of batsmen in their first year. Bowlers haven’t had the time to evaluate and work out tactics in the first year and it is now accepted that the second season is the most important one for young batsmen.

For, it is then bowlers will have assessed the strengths and weaknesses of this new young threat and formed a strategy as to how to nullify the strengths and take advantage of his weaknesses.

What will this initial appraisal reveal?

Obviously, Sehwag has great natural ability with wonderful timing and a penchant to play square of the wicket on the off-side. He is a beautiful striker of the ball on the off and loves to be aggressive.

These are the positive points but where is he vulnerable?

Firstly, because he likes to hit the ball square on the off he likes to give himself room and against the quicks too often plays back in the line of leg stump. This means he can be tied up with well directed deliveries on middle and leg.

Also, from this position his strength can also be his weakness if the bowler bowls a correct length and moves the ball towards the slips.

Any batsman like Sehwag who hits so many balls behind point both from the back and front foot must open the face of the bat and thus give the bowler a chance with the ball that moves away.

In addition, Sehwag’s movement towards leg stump must make him more vulnerable to the short-pitched delivery. He hasn’t been worked over in this area as yet, but I am sure on the quicker wickets of South Africa the quicks will give his ribs a working over. He prospered against the Windies spinners in Mumbai where they gave him plenty of room to hit the ball in his favourite area.

Shane Warne and company will have noted this and will bowl a middle and leg line and probably drop mid-off deep. They will block this area, for Sehwag always tries to loft the ball when he is restricted by the spinners.

Such a line will force Sehwag to play more to the leg, an area which is not his favourite and may lead him to hit dangerously across the line.

All this sounds simple, doesn’t it? How will Sehwag react to all this and will the bowlers be able to bowl to such a plan knowing that to err and stray outside the off will play to Sehwag’s strength?

Personally, I think he will have to tighten up his technique and ball selection. At present he is playing incredible shots to balls not suitable to the stroke and which contain a very high level of danger.

He won’t always get away with slicing just short of a driving length balls through point with half a blade. And on quicker wickets these strokes will easily lead to catches behind the wicket.

As I re-read this assessment, I can’t help but think I would have said the same things about South Africa’s great left-hander Graeme Pollock.

Pollock made the small changes necessary and became one of the finest batsmen ever.

I will be fascinated to watch Virender’s progress in the next 12 months.

Sometimes I wonder whether English cricket can see the wood for the trees. Their captain Nasser Hussain’s recent quote backs this feeling up.

His latest gem is, “There are field settings and tactics you can beat Australia with. It’s up to me and the coach to work that out as soon as possible.” Talk about putting the horse before the cart.

With any theory or tactic you should have the bowlers to back them up. I don’t think they have such bowlers. I wonder whether the computer which English cricket is so fond of these days or a PR Man is writing Nasser’s script.