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A historic day yesterday for Indian cricket, with Virender Sehwag becoming the first Indian to hit a Test triple-century, missing out on being the fastest recorded triple century by a couple of balls. Sehwag is today foremost among the players who bring crowds into cricket, others of his ilk being Adam Gilchrist, Chris Cairns, Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar, Shane Warne etc. Three years ago when Sehwag made his test debut against South Africa on a bouncy track, batting in the middle order, it was difficult to foresee him having a half decent test career. I for one surely thought he was totally unsuited to test cricket, with his technical problems guaranteed to be exposed by half decent bowlers. I'm sure many readers also shared this sentiment. Crucially though, Sehwag didnt think so. By not changing his natural game, he has shown that technical finesse and correctness only takes you some distance, what is important is having the right attitude. He started quite well, with a 150 ball century on debut, imitating several of Tendulkar's upper-cuts over third man. Then he got pulled up by Mike Denness for over appealing, and his exclusion saved a major cricket crisis. He missed the first test against England at Mohali and did nothing of note in the second. However it was the third test which made me sit up and begin to admire Sehwag's batting.
All through the series, England's strategy was based on choking up runs by using the spinner Giles as a defensive bowler, bowling left-arm over the wicket, using blatantly negative but far-from illegal tactics. Most of the Indian batsmen couldn't score freely, as is evident from the strike-rates of the top order Indian batsmen: 49 for Tendulkar, 28 for Dravid, 41 for Laxman, 34 for the law firm of Das & Dasgupta and 44 for the captain Ganguly. Sehwag alone bucked the trend. He had a strike-rate of 70. The way he went after Giles in the last Test, making 70 in around 90 balls was really thrilling to watch. He swept, cut, pulled, hoisted and even reverse swept him on a few occasions. This was the test which convinced me that Sehwag really did have it in him to be successful in tests. As I said earlier, it was just about the attitude. See ball, will hit. Simple.
Since then he has gone from strength to strength and made test hundreds at Trent Bridge, Mohali, Bombay, Melbourne and now Multan. His century at Melbourne was a thrill-a-minute movie. Audacious in its planning (if any) and execution, on a dicey wicket which helped the quicks. He explained his dismissal, slogging down long-on's throat, when he was 5 runs away from a double century, by saying that he wasn't concerned about his score. The ball was hittable, so he'd try. I hope he never ever changes his attitude. The Indian team management really has to be given a lot of credit for sticking with Sehwag, especially when he only made a few strokeful 30s and 40s as an opener.
Sachin Tendulkar's comments on being surprised at the timing of the declaration, with him just 6 runs short of a double century, were jarring to hear on such a good day for Indian cricket. Tendulkar needs to understand that the team goals are always more important than individual goals. My understanding of the situation is that the management (presumably Dravid and Wright and perhaps Ganguly) conveyed to Tendulkar and Yuvraj that the declaration would happen around an hour before stumps and if a wicket fell around that time, then it'd be immediately enforced to save as much time as possible and avoid a new batsman walking out and taking time to get set. On a wicket as flat as the one at Multan, the Indian bowling would need as many overs as possible to get Pakistan out twice, in succession, over three days. Past Indian teams have been guilty of being obsessed with individual achievements. For e.g. Ganguly poking around in the 90s during the 1999 World Cup game against South Africa and ultimately not getting his 100, a few occasions in the recent past where Tendulkar has scored quite slowly between 80 and 100 and Tendulkar's persistent public comments on him wanting to open rather than bat in the middle order, even though for nearly a year the Indian team was experimenting with Ganguly and Sehwag opening with Tendulkar in the middle order.
Contrast this with Dravid coming off after being hit when he was in his 90s in the Sydney test to save time when he could have taken some medication/treatment and gone on to make a century, Ganguly coming in the middle order in onedayers even though he prefers to open, Dravid keeping in onedayers even though he hates it, Ganguly coming in at the fag end of the day's play at Melbourne, ahead of Tendulkar who was having a lean patch. All of Tendulkar's double hundreds have come in drawn games. So it may not be a bad idea to see if the decision turns out to be a good one in the end! I was surprised though to see Balaji in the side ahead of Agarkar. Agarkar is definitely a superior bowler and fielder. So it could mean that his injury hasn't fully healed and India didnt want to risk him, Zaheer and Kumble returning from injury in the same game.
At 364/6 on day 3 with 112 runs required to avoid the follow on, the game can only go away from India if they bowl listlessly in tomorrow's first session. The aim must be to wrap up the tail before lunch and enforce the follow on. Pakistan's approach to batting tomorrow will also be interesting. Moin and Razzaq are stroke players and can score at a brisk pace. Pakistan's first aim would be to get past the followon mark without losing any wickets. Once they do that, the test is much more likely to be drawn.
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