Saturday, October 27, 2012

The Curious Case Of Virender Sehwag

Virender Sehwag has never been a successful ODI and Test batsman at the same time. Periods of prolific Test Match play have been marked by erratic ODI play and vice versa. A look at 15 innings splits for Sehwag's career makes this quite clear. As the table below shows, Sehwag's periods of Test dominance have coincided with periods of ODI struggles and vice versa. Most recently, this has been evident in the period after his come back to the India team in 2008. 2009 was a fine Test Match year for Sehwag, while in ODI cricket, he went through a slump, before recovering in ODIs in the first half of 2010 - a period where he had a modest Test results. There are early signs that today Sehwag is beginning a period of modest results which rivals his troubles in 2007.

There is a lot of speculation right now about Sehwag's future in the Indian side. If the selectors feel that he is basically no longer the batsman he used to be, then they are likely to look elsewhere and not persist with him. Sehwag's method of batting was unequivocally demolished in England and Australia. The superb length of the Australian and English bowlers left him with nowhere to go given his method of playing aggressive well in front of the pad off the front foot, while staying beside the line of the ball. Where in India, given the absence of late movement, Sehwag is devastating using this method because he's so good at staying balanced with still until the last possible moment, the late movement off the pitch and in the air in England and Australia left him chasing the ball. His unwillingness to play differently (it must be really hard to change method in the middle of a Test series. Only the very greatest, and even then, only at their very best can do this) hurt him, and it hurt India especially because he was opening the batting. Losing their opener early kept exposing the middle order to the new ball, often with disastrous consequences. To use a baseball analogy, its a little like the middle order being behind the count to start with.
A comparison of Virender Sehwag's batting  - 15 innings splits for Tests and ODIs

Lets leave aside trite cliches like "A good player is a good player in any format" for the moment. Sehwag, in my view, illustrates the crucial ways in which the format dictates how a player bats. At his best, Sehwag is not instinctive (that is too reactionary), but a "true" batsman. This is to say, that at his best, his movements are not such much decisive, as they are certain. He responds to every ball genuinely on its merits as he sees it, without attempting to contrive anything. As he gets set, and as his score builds, he does get cheekier, but by then, the bowling has been more or less destroyed, and he gets enough long hops, and the field is spread far and wide so that he keeps getting runs. At his best, his  "true" form helps him dictate the terms of the contest between bat and ball in certain conditions. This is a talent very few of the top batsmen have. In ODI cricket, this is often not enough. He seems to acquire this urge to constantly chase a run rate - to constantly try to manufacture shots. He tends to pre-meditate far more, and hence, also fails a lot more.

Now, the more we do a particular thing, the easier it becomes - the better we become at it. For batsmen it has to be the same. The more a batsman tries to pre-meditate, the easier it must get - the more naturally it must come to him (this is a Heideggerian point, but one does not need the German philosopher to see this).

When the pre-meditation works, it looks spectacular. Furthermore, it looks easy and obvious - it is hard to imagine how batting could be more difficult. But this is an illusion - one which can be (and often is) shattered by the conditions changing just a little bit (a nippier pitch, a better bowling attack, a better fielding side, a different bat, perhaps a couple of strokes of bad luck).

My view is that Sehwag tends to oscillate between batting "true" and batting in a far more contrived sense - between pre-meditating less, and pre-meditating more. Phases where he is pre-meditating just enough have tended to be purple phases in his ODI play, but modest or even poor phases in his Test play. It is not easy for a player to adjust to different formats, and for a player like Sehwag it is harder than most.

The advent of T20 cricket complicates this picture, because it creates a third situation (different from the 50 over game, or the Test Match) to which Sehwag must adjust. On November 4, it will be 2 years to the day since Sehwag last made a Test century. In 29 Test innings since that day, Sehwag has reached double figures 23 times, twenty 19 times, and thirty, 17 times.

Over the first 9 years of his career (November 3, 2001 - November 4, 2010), Virender Sehwag average 92 in the 74 innings (out of a 141 total Test innings) that he reached 30. Since November 4, 2010, in the 17 Test innings where he reached 30, he averages 55 - a drop of about 40%.

Which Sehwag will emerge against England? India's fate may well depend on this. Perhaps a move down the order will help Sehwag reset his approach, but I do not see Sehwag moving down the batting order until Sachin Tendulkar vacates the number 4 slot.


  1. A very well analysed and well written article about Virender Sehwag's performance in tests and ODIs.I think there is definitely some problem with Viru as he hasn't been consistent in recent years.The reason for his failure in ODIs is I think that he looks to smash everything outside his off stump and besides this he is been too exposed to all the teams so he must evolve his batting to cope with the emerging challenges.

  2. "Sehwag is the most destructive Batsman of present times."
    About article i would say very much studied and analytic. Great words gathered about Virender Sehwag.

  3. Well, I hope Sehwag will never lose hope and, which I know he will reach that success in the future.