Archive for August, 2008
We have frequently discussed India’s emergence as a top Test team over the years, caused by many factors such as good utilisation of young talent, good captaincy and good team morale. Sri Lanka has also recently started playing competitive cricket at the highest level. Their recent successes are accredited to Jayawardene’s mature captaincy, batting form of main batsmen Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Jayasuria and the advent of awe inspiring talent in players like Malinga and Mendis. Pakistan, which was once a top team in Test cricket, is no longer considered a giant in Asia. Most people will agree what happened to India in the 1st Test was merely a wake up call and India fought back hard with a well deserved victory in the 2nd Test, although it was a fairly competitive match.
Recent contests between India and Sri Lanka have demonstrated why so much interest is generated when both these sides play. Historically contests between India and Pakistan were meant to draw enormous interest from cricket fans all around the world. However, now Pakistan has been replaced by Sri Lanka. The hype and reputation of India-Sri Lanka games are still not on the same level as Pakistan-India games, but what happens in the games themselves is very exciting and at times, nail biting. The main reason why this has started happening, is because both sides have some qualities which the other side does not have. Yet both teams are very similar in some respects.
India is going by the reputation of its “Big 4”, namely Tendulkar, Dravid, Laxman and Ganguly. The names of these batsmen spread fear in the minds of even the most fearsome bowlers in the world. Going off statistics no one in the Sri Lankan side is as accomplished as Tendulkar and Dravid; however, Jayawardene and Sangakkara are great players in their own right who have the ability to outclass the best bowling attacks. In the bowling department Sri Lanka would appear to have the edge, albeit slightly as currently Zaheer Khan and Ishant Sharma are bowling better than Vaas or Prasad. Nevertheless, Vaas is very experienced and of course Murali is the most devastating spinner in Test cricket. Mendis is a unique talent whom the Indian batsmen are still trying to fathom.
The interesting aspect to this series has been that openers from both sides have outperformed the main middle order batsmen. No one could expect Gambhir and Sehwag to outscore the likes of Tendulkar and Dravid, yet both Indian openers have done so convincingly. From Sri Lanka’s point of view, Warnapura has been very level headed and mature- quite a revelation. Samaraweera, the late middle order batsman and by no means as reputable as Jayawardene or Sangakkara, has been Sri Lanka’s main batsman this series, averaging 104 so far.
Owing to a Mendis special India could only manage 249 on the board, which is not a good total on this track. This pitch does have something for everyone but now India will have to bowl out of their skins to restrict Sri Lanka under 300. The way Ishant and Zaheer have been bowling, there is a likelihood Sri Lanka will be dismissed under 300. This will make this match and this series even more exciting for the viewer. It must also be stressed that because this pitch has some assistance for spinners, Harbhajan Singh might prove useful to India’s plans because of his recent resurgence of form.
This series is not over yet, and what we have seen after the 1st day’s play suggests there might be some surprises in store. An indication of how competitive India-Sri Lanka has become is the fact that which direction this Test will go is impossible to predict. We might see Sangakkara, Jayawardene and Samaraweera help their team achieve an enviable total. At the same time it is equally likely Ishant Sharma and Zaheer might destroy the Sri Lankan top order and restrict Sri Lanka to a low score. Whatever happens, currently the idea that Pakistan-India matches are unique in terms of competitiveness is not well founded because of India’s rise and Pakistan’s fall in world cricket. So if you want to see two Asian Test giants battling it out, this is the series you need to watch.
“Adding method to madness” is a phrase that cannot suit anyone more aptly than Virender Sehwag. When Sehwag burst on to the international scene in 2001, no one could expect he would reach such enviable heights. Method to madness in cricketing terms means, for those who may be unsure, playing with a lot of aggression but also assessing the situation well and keeping mind over matter. Only a very few batsmen in the world have been able to be very aggressive and dominating insofar having a phenomenal strike rate but also making plenty of runs and winning their teams plenty of matches. A few names come to mind such as Viv Richards or Adam Gilchrist, but none of them have added method to madness in such a way as Sehwag has done.
In Tests Sehwag averages 53 with 15 centuries and 14 fifties. His strike rate of 77 is excellent for Tests. In ODI’s he averages 32 but with 9 centuries and 29 fifties and an amazing strike rate of 99. Sehwag’s true value to the Indian team cannot be expressed without detailing his records:
1)He is only the 3rd batsman (the other 2 being Bradman and Lara) to have scored 300 twice in a Test innings.
2)He has scored 5 double hundreds in Test cricket, only behind Miandad, Sangakkara and Atapattu(6), W Hammond(7), Lara(9) and Bradman(12). He is 29 currently and has a long batting career ahead of him, fitness permitting.
3)He has scored the fastest triple century in international cricket (off 278 balls)
Sehwag’s 201 (not out) in the first innings of the 2nd Test between India and Sri Lanka epitomised his significance to the team. This was not the first time when Sehwag has dominated a bowling attack whereas most of the other Indian batsmen have failed at the same time. The secret behind Sehwag’s greatness is immense raw talent in the form of excellent hand-eye coordination. Few players in world cricket are as good as Sehwag when it comes to picking up the line and length of the delivery and creating a stroke. Most people will not compare Sehwag with greats like Bradman, Lara and Inzamam who have scored triple centuries and they will not place him in the same category, perhaps rightly so. However what Sehwag has achieved which these greats did not, is the pace at which he has scored those triple centuries. Whereas the hallmark of the triple centuries scored by Bradman and Lara is patience and stamina, the distinguishing feature of Sehwag’s mega-tons has been complete domination and aggressiveness and a refusal to succumb to any type of pressure.
Yet Sehwag is not without his criticisms. He has been accused of being too reckless and of not acknowledging the enormous responsibility on his shoulders. Verily, Sehwag’s ODI average of 32 does not do justice to his boundless talent. His technique is not without risks, but even his most passionate fans agree he can do better. Sehwag has also been accused of not doing enough to remedy some technical deficiencies such as poor strokeplay when he gets cramped for room.
Nevertheless, Sehwag stands as something of a red herring. Perhaps unfulfilled potential too in some cases, some might say. His triple centuries, his free flowing style of batting and the Indian team’s increasing dependence of him make him appear as good as any Tendulkar’s or Lara’s of this world. Yet there have been stages in his career where he has been a dispensable prospect and the Indian team has almost benefited from his omission. As long as he is consistent (and to be fair to him, he has been reasonably consistent for most of his career which is indicated by his very impressive Test average and decent ODI average) he will be a regular in the side and will win India many matches.
Hence to conclude, Sehwag had added a new dimension to the art of batting in modern cricket. By adding this method to madness he has become a run making machine, a truly formidable opponent to any opposition and a consistent match winner for India. Perhaps the most potent indication of Sehwag’s greatness is and will be, that most coaches 10 years down the line will probably instruct their students to bat like Virender Sehwag, where batting is all about scoring runs very quickly but with also a lot of control and precision. This seems especially true with the changing nature of international cricket which is now very quickly becoming a game for aggressive batsmen, and batsmen who take their time to settle down such as Rahul Dravid are unlikely to be successful in such situations in the long run.