‘See ball, hit ball’ pretty much sums up Virender Sehwag’s approach to batting. ‘See ball, hit ball’ also, pretty much, sums up the general approach to batting in Twenty20 cricket. So why does Sehwag suck at T20 … at least in India colours? Though, if you didn’t know much about the numbers associated with Sehwag’s tally of runs in all forms of the game or the way he prefers to bat, you’d be excused for thinking his style of play was best suited for T20 cricket and that he was very successful at it.
What gives? Why is Sehwag the least effective top order batsmen in T20 internationals? Why has one of India’s greatest batsmen let himself, and the national team, down as a T20 international cricketer? Might it be because he doesn’t find batting in India colours in this the most curtailed, and least respected, form of it challenging enough? Or is, contrary to popular belief, Test cricket an easier version of the game for someone who bats like Sehwag? Let us delve a touch deeper into the basic nature of the three forms of international cricket to try and arrive at the reasons for Sehwag’s underwhelming performance as a T20 batsman for India.
Opening the batting in Test cricket is, in the opinion of the experts, the sternest examination of batting skills. No doubt weathering the onslaught of the new ball is a truly challenging task for a batsman who looks to do it with good old-fashioned defence and what is conventionally considered a risk-free approach. Sehwag, though, is not like that. He sees the gaps in the field at the start of an innings – what with multiple slips and a gully, no third man, and the like – as mouth-watering opportunities to make hay while the ball is new, fast, and furious. Quite clearly, his opponents haven’t, until recently, found a way to deal with this eccentric approach to opening the batting. As a result, Sehwag often ends up getting close to fifty during the time the opposition is trying its damnedest to make the most of the early assistance by persisting with attacking fields. Whilst other opening batsmen opt for defence in the face of attack, for Sehwag attack is the best form of defence. This is one of the key reasons Sehwag has done so well in Tests as an opening batsman. This method, though, does not work quite as well in limited overs cricket.
In the longer form of limited overs cricket, in which batsmen call the shots (even more so than in Tests), defensive bowling and fields are the predominant form of attack. This stymies, frustrates, and bores Sehwag, who, unlike Sachin Tendulkar, finds it banal, and impossible, to play the role of an accumulator. Sehwag’s bread and butter shots are 4’s, which explains why he is even less prolific in T20’s.
The sooner the field restrictions come off, the harder it gets for Sehwag to score runs in 4’s – and he’s not physically strong enough to biff sixes at will a la Chris Gayle. In Tests, captains retain the close catching cordon for at least the first hour. In ODI’s, the inner ring is packed with catchers and single-savers for the first 45 minutes or thereabouts. In T20’s, the fielders in the inner circle are dispatched to boundary-saving positions even sooner. The effect of these field placing and run-saving tactics is revealed in Sehwag’s batting numbers. Simple as Sehwag!
Or is there a more complicated reason Sehwag's success as an international batsman is directly proportionate to the duration of cricket being played?
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