Off the blocks in a jiffy

It is to Virender Sehwag's credit that he is the first choice opener in the Indian side. The debate is for the other slot and it is between Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar.-AFP

Virender Sehwag, Adam Gilchrist and Sanath Jayasuriya. Three of a kind, ruthless and destructive. They have changed the rules of the game, invariably making a mockery of the rival captains' strategies, writes S. DINAKAR.

WHACK... the ball is crashed to the point fence. Boom... it is sent soaring over the mid-wicket boundary. Smack... it is smashed down the ground.

These are sounds of thunder when the all action heroes waltz at the crease, dismissing the ball to the distant corners of the field.

They often go about their job as if there is no tomorrow. But then, in the end, it is their opponents who face the prospect of a bleak tomorrow.

There is never a dull moment, the fare is high on octane, and the team is off to an often rollicking start. Like a race car streaking down the track, or a speedboat cutting across the waters.

They take risks, often bat with the instincts of a gambler. However, fortune does favour the brave. These are both entertainers and match-winners.

Adam Gilchrist has a tremendous eye and can tear any attack to ribbons in no time.-V. V. KRISHNAN

And when it is World Cup time, they are, in box-office terms, quite the biggest draw. They are the superstars... and the terminators.

Lights, camera, action... the focus is on Virender Sehwag, Adam Gilchrist and Sanath Jayasuriya. Three of a kind, ruthless and destructive.

They have changed the rules of the game, invariably forcing the captains to abandon their Plan `A'. And there are no guarantees about `Plan `B' working either.

Finding the gaps, and taking the aerial route when the field restrictions are in, and then, continuing their stay in the middle and killing off the enemy, they can impose themselves on a contest.

On what really is the biggest stage of `em all in world cricket, it promises to be a thrill-a-minute ride once the curtains part.

If you are a lover of art then the blows from the willows of Sehwag, Gilchrist and Jayasuriya will be akin to bright and bold strokes on the World Cup canvas. The images are bound to be terrific.

Well begun is half done they say, and a good start does provide a sound platform for bigger deeds. Sehwag, Gilchrist and Jayasuriya can accomplish that and more, often pulling the rug from under the feet of their adversaries.

Sanath Jayasuriya is devastating because with his short-arm method he doesn't require much width to wallop the ball.-N. SRIDHARAN

The concept of an attacking opener knocking the bowlers off their rhythm, bringing about dramatic changes in the field settings has really turned the one-day game on its head, the fielding side often being swept away by the gale force.

And a storm Sehwag certainly is when in mood. This Delhi cricketer can so easily make a difference in a key game, wading into the bowling with effortless ease.

Perhaps the greatest tribute to Sehwag comes from the World Cup debate about the Indian opening pair. The arguments are only about his partner — Sachin Tendulkar or skipper Sourav Ganguly. Sehwag's rightful place at the top of the order is never put to question.

This is an indicator of the kind of impact he has made as the one who switches on the ignition in limited overs cricket, and then puts his foot on the accelerator. In other words, this simple youngster from a Delhi suburb, has been a smashing success.

Doubts were cast about the feasibility of the move when, in an emergency situation, Sehwag was handed the role of an opener during the Coca-Cola triangular one-day competition in Colombo, 2001. A heel injury had kept Sachin Tendulkar out of the tour, Yuvraj Singh had failed when the job was thrust on him, and the team-management did not have too much faith in Amay Khurasiya's ability. That really was the beginning of the remarkable Sehwag story.

His incredible death or glory hundred, in a do or die qualification battle for India at the Sinhalese Sports Club Stadium left the Kiwis rubbing their eyes in sheer disbelief. This was indeed an astonishing onslaught.

It was there that we first caught a glimpse of Sehwag's ability to thump the ball into the open spaces, or squeeze it through the gaps, depending on the way one looks at it, and he did sparkle that day. A star was born.

A year later, he would return to Colombo and knock the daylights out of England in a day-night encounter of the ICC Champions Trophy. A hurricane hundred it was from the hurricane Sehwag ... breathtaking stuff really.

In the otherwise disastrous tour of New Zealand, Sehwag's centuries in Napier and Auckland were the brightest batting spots for the Indians in the ODIs, and it gives the man plenty of credit that in a bowler-dominated series, he reached the three-figure mark twice, meeting fire with fire.

Herschelle Gibbs, the busy South African, has a good strike-rate too.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The feature of his batting is the time he has to essay the off-side strokes. The felicity with which he hammers the ball between point and cover leaves the chasing fielder often short of breath.

Sehwag is innovative as well, often playing the ball late and with soft hands, and beating the field placements. You could have two men at point, besides a sweeper cover, yet Sehwag can find the boundary in that area. This is his strength.

Essentially a back-foot player, he can despatch the pacemen straight down the ground as well. He possesses a mean pull stroke, and does use his feet to the spinners, often clearing the ground in a jiffy.

He has had his share of problems against short-pitched bowling from the quicks in the Test match arena — a tendency to put too much weight on his right leg often leaves him cramped when the delivery climbs into the rib-cage area — but in the abbreviated form of the game, this technical flaw is not too much of a handicap.

However, Veeru, a natural with a rather rustic charm, is bound to have his task cut out in the World Cup. His dominant ways on the off-side are well known and the line of attack to this sizzler could well be middle-and-leg, denying him the room to launch into those scorching cover and square drives. Sehwag, given his cool demeanour in the middle, should be equal to the challenge though.

Adam Gilchrist too should be thrilling the senses. He is a southpaw, who can bury the opposition quickly. If Sehwag's off-side shot-making is spectacular, Gilchrist is awesome on the on-side.

Perhaps none in contemporary cricket has a better eye than this West Australian, who can spot the length of the ball in no time, pick up the line in a flash, before sending it to a far corner. With the willow, the lean, tall, and mean `Pierce Brosnan of world cricket does have the `Licence to Kill.

With the rock-solid Matthew Hayden, a wonderful striker of the ball himself, providing him company, Gilchrist is likely to be the blazing magnum, burning the opposition with hooks and pulls, sweeps and heaves, cuts and drives.

During the VB triangular one-day competition this season, Gilchrist cracked a hundred (in a league match) and then a hurricane half century (in the first final), England being at the receiving end.

There is that distinct spirit of adventure when the West Australian, whose cameo in the '99 World Cup final at Lord's is still recalled with relish, takes on the finest in the game at the beginning of an encounter. He will be a clear and present danger in Southern Africa.

So too will be Sanath Jayasuriya. The Man from Matara can leave the bowlers with a dented ego and a bruised morale, meeting the ball with brutal power. Some call him the `Butcher from Matara.'

The Lankan captain is running hot these days, scoring back-to-back centuries in the combative VB series down under and only missing a third due to a shocking run-out at 99. A fearsome opener when his mind and body are in harmony.

A significant aspect about men like Sehwag, Gilchrist and Jayasuriya is that when they find their range and rhythm — this may not consume more than a handful of deliveries — they can send the run-rate zooming, shrink the asking rate, and even if they only make around 50, the rate of scoring does not drop. Even in the event of the team losing a few quick wickets, their early strokes do provide the team with better chances of recovering.

Their heavyweight blows at the beginning of the innings also seize the initiative from the opposition, apart from pegging back the bowlers psychologically. And when they deliver big, these men can take the match away from the opposition in a hurry.

Jayasuriya had a forgettable time in the '99 World Cup, when the Lankans were under the additional stress of being the defending champion. However, he was perhaps the brightest shining star of the '96 edition, treating the pacemen disdainfully in the first 15 overs along with Romesh Kaluwitharana.

Among the most fierce cutters and pullers in the game, this firecracker does not require as much width as the others since he employs the short arm method, a rarity in present day cricket. He should be calling the shots for Lanka in the premier one-day competition in Southern Africa.

Sehwag, Gilchrist and Jayasuriya will have mighty competition too in the World Cup from South Africa's mercurial Herschelle Gibbs of dazzling footwork and strokes, England's smooth stroking southpaw Marcus Trescothick, the loose-limbed and languid Chris Gayle of the West Indies, the headline-grabbing Australian Matthew Hayden, the often irrepressible Kiwi Nathan Astle, and India's own Sourav Ganguly, who can be devastating on his day.

Pakistan's Shahid Afridi, such a clean striker of the ball, so cruelly pushed up and down the order, will be a definite threat as opener if he runs into form. And the Indian team-management should have a rethink on Sachin Tendulkar's slot. It is as an opener that the maestro's best moments have surfaced for India in the ODIs and the think-tank can be flexible here. For instance, Tendulkar could handle the feared Aussie pace attack adeptly, and Ganguly, a fine player of spin with the ability to unleash huge sixes, can face-off with Shane Warne in the middle-order.

Dashing former Indian opener Krishnamachari Srikkanth was a trail-blazer really, giving the pacemen the charge, meeting fire with fire and powering India to hectic starts in the World Championship of Cricket competition in Australia, '85.

In the '92 World Cup down under, New Zealand's Mark Greatbatch was simply superb as an aggressive, innovative top-order batsman, moving down the wicket to the likes of Curtly Ambrose and Allan Donald. It was Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana's turn in the '96 edition. Then, on seaming pitches and swinging conditions, the openers had a quieter time in the '99 competition in Old Blighty.

In Southern Africa, the attacking openers should be back in business, on surfaces that are expected to play sportingly. The race will be very much on and the kick start could well be the key.