VIRENDER SEHWAG – CRICKET’S RAJNIKANTH

As the famously balanced Indian cricket fan showers gentle praises on Virender Sehwag for allowing them to celebrate a World Record in this age of self-contained cultural muscle-flexing, we unfortunately have to play party-pooper.

Sehwag has actually played 3 other ODI innings in his career that have a higher impact than the massacre movie called “219 in Indore”.

In all those innings, the state of domination was so complete that his performance seemed in a vacuum much like this Rajnikanth advert.

SEHWAG’S FIVE HIGHEST IMPACT INNINGS

1.99 not out (100 balls) vs Sri Lanka, Dambulla, 16Aug 2010

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Chasing/Not out

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6.39 1.87 0.84 0.50 1.74 11.34

What’s the fuss about, you may wonder, it’s barely a run-a-ball innings. Its the match, actually. After being humiliatingly dismissed for 88 in the first match of the Tri-Series tournament, thus losing by 200 runs against New Zealand just six days ago, the Indian bowlers bowled well in tandem on a helpful track and dismissed favourites Sri Lanka for 170 in 46 overs. The ball was fizzing around when the Indians came out to bat – and soon they were 32 for 3 with Karthik, Kohli and Sharma gone – Fernando and Matthews with their tails up. Raina kept giving a determined Sehwag the strike – who was playing a relatively watchful innings, given the circumstances. After 15 overs, India were 47 for 3 with Sehwag on 24. The (relatively) quiet recovery continued, till Raina was dismissed with India at 91 in the 22ndover. Dhoni came in, and continued Raina’s role, giving Sehwag the strike. In the next few overs, sheer carnage ensued as Sehwag, perhaps bored of exercising patience for so long, and now fully set, got back into his default setting – complete with genial smile and amused eyes. The 5thwicket added 80 runs in less than 13 overs (Dhoni made just 23 of those) – completely against the grain of the match – a Sehwag specialty. This was a perfect amalgam of all aspects of batsmanship – a high volume of runs, scoring them at an absurdly fast rate (in the context of the match), absorbing the pressure of wickets falling around him, building partnerships and completing the job by being not out at the end. This was rare flawlessness that even Suraj Randiv’s disgraceful sportsmanship in the end (when he denied Sehwag a highly deserved century by bowling an obviously deliberate no-ball) could not erase.

2.110 (93 balls) vs New Zealand, Dambulla, 25 Aug 2010

Runs Tally
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7.10 2.90 0.65 0.51 11.16

Nine days after the above match, India had to beat New Zealand to reach the final. India won the toss, batted. The first four Indian batsmen made 0, 8, 6 and 1, but India was actually 66 in 13 overs when the 4th wicket fell – Sehwag already in his forties, at a-run-a-ball, playing in that famous vacuum of his when it seems obvious that he fell into a bigger cauldron of magic potion in his childhood than Obelix the Gaul. He eventually made 110 out of 173 when he got out, and India folded up 13 overs later for 223. New Zealand, alas, had mere humans playing for them, and the still-overwhelmingly seaming conditions led to the Indian bowlers have a rare party together as Praveen Kumar, Ashish Nehra, Munaf Patel and Ishant Sharma destroyed New Zealand for 118. If the previous innings had been a perfect innings while chasing, this was as good as it got while setting a target in difficult conditions.

3.125 not out (74 balls) vs New Zealand, Hamilton, 11 Mar 2009

Runs Tally

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Chasing/Not out

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6.83 1.17 0.50 1.24 9.73

India were 2-0 up with 2 to go. New Zealand won the toss, batted, slaughtered the Indian bowlers for almost 20 overs when both openers (McCullum and Ryder) touched 100 with no signs of trouble. But the Indians came back, reduced New Zealand to 175 for 5 in the 37th, till a late burst from McGlashan and Elliot took New Zealand to a seemingly formidable 270 in 47 overs (it was already a rain-hit match). The best opening pair of this generation came out and Gambhir (28) and Sehwag (51) had soon put up 83 in just ten overs when there was a rain-break, and the target reduced to 263 in 43 overs. There must have been some talk at the break about keeping an eye on the D/L sheet and frenetic calculations must have been made, which perhaps annoyed Sehwag – not much else can explain what followed. Sehwag cut loose without indulging in his behind-the-square off-side play, usually his most prolific area, but all around the park, and brought up his century in 60 balls, the fastest-ever by an Indian. Gambhir, at the other end, played the sane foil, scoring at a mere run-a-ball. The next rain-break came at 169 in the 20th over, and the revised target was 220 in 23.2 overs. Out they came again, and out the ball went again, and again. During precisely the 24th over, as if on cue, it rained again, and the target was further reduced to 197, and as if nature itself wanted a break from the onslaught the game ended here. India had their first-ever ODI series victory in New Zealand with a 10-wicket massacre.

4.219 (149 balls) vs West Indies, Indore, 8 Dec 2011

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7.05 1.53 0.55 9.14

It’s like 3 teams played this game – India, West Indies and Sehwag. In what appeared to be an immaculate Bollywood-script, the leading man scored 219, and the next highest in his team managed 67. Sehwag was always the one tipped to reach the first double hundred in ODI cricket till Tendulkar beat him to it 18 months ago. Restoring order, and a certain kind of logic, Sehwag notched up the highest score in the history of ODI cricket and became his country’s highest single-innings scorer in both Tests and ODIs. 25 boundaries and 7 sixes tell the story partially, a strike rate of 147 does too somewhat, as does winning by over 150 runs. That the Batting IMPACT of this performance was higher than Tendulkar’s during his 200 (his was 8.40) also tells a part of the story.

An important part of this story also is that this is a B-grade team, unlike the other 4 performances on this list and therefore on a Match IMPACT level when career figures are drawn up will register just a 4 on the IMPACT scale (whereas all the others will register a 5). It is also interesting that despite making 219 here, his Runs Tally Impact is lower here than the second match (where he made exactly half that) purely because of the match context.

5.114 not out (82 balls) vs West Indies, Rajkot, 12 Nov 2002

Runs Tally

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Partnership Building

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Chasing/Not out

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Batting
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6.26 0.86 0.49 1.13 8.74

After winning the first 2 ODIs in a 7-match series, West Indies put up 300 for 5 (with Gayle, Sarwan and Chanderpaul playing scintillating innings in the absence of Lara and Hooper) – a very formidable total in the early part of the last decade. Much like performance 3 on this list, the Indian openers went about restoring parity, this time they were Ganguly and Sehwag. The first, playing a relatively sensible innings of 72 in 83 balls and our man meanwhile running away with a 75-ball hundred. Disgraceful, boorish crowd behaviour (bottles being thrown on West Indies fieldsman, no doubt coupled with racist taunts) led to the abandonment of the game and India winning comfortably on the D/L method. At that time, Sehwag’s approach to a seemingly stiff chase was not as expected as it is now, his methods more familiar, his similar deeds many more in number. It inspired complete awe then, as it actually perhaps should every time.

No other cricketer has dominated cricket when at his best in this way in the modern age, not even Viv Richards. And yet, it can be said that Sehwag has underachieved in ODI cricket (unlike Test cricket, where he has redefined the role of an opener forever). His average of 36 is not great for a subcontinental batsman, but his strike rate of 105 makes up for a lot of his shortfalls when he does click. It all translates to a Batting IMPACT of 1.64, which makes him the 5thhighest ODI Indian batsman ever (minimum 75 matches) after Tendulkar, Ganguly, Sidhu and Dhoni.

The reason for Sehwag not touching greatness in the ODI format is interesting, though not surprising at all. His rate of failure (which Impact Index defines as registering below an IMPACT of 1) is higher than most high impact batsman. Sehwag registers below an IMPACT of 1 about 53% of the time – which is very revealing. Amongst Indian batsmen, his opening partner Gambhir has a lower failure rate of 47%. Tendulkar – India’s finest ODI batsman, has a failure rate of just 45%, as does Ganguly, while Sidhu and Dhoni have failure rates of 42% and 47% respectively. In fact, even Dhoni having a lower failure rate than Sehwag is revealing because a middle-order batsman gets far fewer opportunities than top-order players to fully express themselves, and have to take far more risks. Thankfully for India, Sehwag’s numbers in Test cricket are considerably different, but that’s another story for another time.