Jamie Alter: Sehwag\'s success, as he has often stated, is due in large part to an uncluttered mind.
New Delhi: On February 24, 2010, a barrier that had not been breached in 2961 one-day internationals finally fell in Gwalior, and it was fitting that Sachin Tendulkar, the owner of the most ODI runs ever, was the first to reach 200 in an innings.
On December 8, 2011, that record was overhauled in stunning manner by the man many around the world expected to have done so by now, a man dubbed a Tendulkar clone in the infancy of his international career. It took just 260 ODIs for someone to eclipse Tendulkar's record, and that individual was Virender Sehwag.
On February 11 this year, Sehwag had sounded a warning to rival sides by stating his intent to bat out 50 overs – a feat he had never achieved before. That plan took a while in executing, though he came close in his first innings since making that statement when he slammed 175 in the World Cup opener in Dhaka, batting until the 48th over. Eleven innings and almost ten months later, including which he suffered injuries and missed several months of action, Sehwag picked a good time to produce the record achievement. His own form had been patchy and a series win was on the line, should India have lost.
Sehwag's success, as he has often stated, is due in large part to an uncluttered mind. This was evident today, as he shut out his own form and the pressure of captaincy to bludgeon an innings of sublime power, speed and determination. It was as if Sehwag had saved up all his energy for this one innings
He began in top gear and didn't slow down until he had crossed 200, no doubt fatigued by having batted so long. The first of his 25 boundaries – a total that equalled the record set by Tendulkar during his double – came off the second ball he faced; his first six, off the eighth ball. From there on matters were a blur as Sehwag sped to his fifty in 41 balls with his fourth six, and a 15th ODI century needed just 69 balls – making it his quickest three-figure knock ever. His previous fastest had been his maiden ODI century, scored off 70 balls against New Zealand in 2001.
Thereon, the runs ticked over. His 150 was passed in 112 balls, after which Sehwag was dropped by Darren Sammy on 170 in the deep. Without emoting, Sehwag returned to the stumps and sped into the 190s, and after raising 8,000 career runs with a flick to fine leg, smashed a short and wide delivery to the deep backward point ropes to move to 201. Unlike Tendulkar in Gwalior last year, Sehwag had plenty of time to reach the landmark and he appeared set to try to push for 250 until he was dismissed in the 47th over for 219. It was a sublime innings.
Martin Crowe, the former New Zealand captain, reckoned that batting must be instinctive; the ability to "see the ball early and play it late". That, in essence, is what Sehwag’s batting is all about. He moves only when the ball leaves the bowler's hand, thus giving little away. And when he does move, there is minimal fuss. This was evident in his stroke-play against the quick bowlers today.
Against Ravi Rampaul and Kemar Roach, his footwork was mostly decisive and when he wasn’t to the pitch – such as against Sammy and Andre Russell – he threw the bat at ball and with great power ensured the ball went over the infield. His minimal movement ensured Sehwag never got into awkward positions. Notice the boundaries hit off Marlon Samuels in the 34th and 36th overs: first, Sehwag made room to carve four past point, then he patted – yes, patted – a full toss past extra cover, and followed up next ball by opening the face of the bat and steering four more between backward point and cover-point. Sehwag doesn’t turn an aggressive stroke into a defensive prod. He waits a fraction longer and then converts a prod into a lofted drive or steers it wide of fielders.
As Sehwag said during the mid-innings break, he had never dreamed of scoring an ODI double-century. "I know people expected me to score a double-century, so thanks to them. And thanks to my family. I had said earlier that the top order was not contributing, and it was my job. I never changed my batting through this innings. I just told my self that I needed to bat through the batting Powerplay, and I would get the double-hundred. When Sammy dropped my chance, I knew God was with me. I am tired, yes; I am an old man now.
Now that Sehwag knows what it takes to bat 50 overs, and what his doing so can result it, it is a scary to imagine what he can produce. For him the challenge in ODIs has been to convert starts into sizeable knocks; he has 14 centuries and 37 fifties. Perhaps this epic innings will turn the tide. If it does, the man who has enthralled fans the world across for over a decade may give bowlers plenty of torment in the 50-over format. And that, in its own unique way, is a mesmerizing thought.