Wisden's leading cricketer, 2008. Repeat in 2009, with a strike rate of 108.9 at an average of 70 in test matches.
Rewind to about ten years ago when he first surfaced in international cricket as a middle order bat who bowled occasional off spin. Critics and purists alike scoffed at him. They said that he would soon be found out. They gave him one, at best two seasons in international cricket. They said he has terrific hand-eye coordination, but once he ages a bit and loses that, he will be out.
He hasn't lost any of that, while the critics have lost face. The strike rate of 100 plus is ample testimony to that. And when you look at the fact that this strike rate has been achieved in test matches, the so-called boring, slow version of cricket, you want to salute the man. It's my good fortune that I have been able to follow his career, and delight in all that he has been able to deliver in his own inimitable style.
I am not an expert, but I believe that contrary to popular belief, no conviction, he is an extremely orthodox player. Just that his methods are, well, unorthodox. For example, if a ball can be hit for six when he is on 195, he will play that stroke, go for that maximum, and it doesn't matter that the long on fielder has been hungry all day. If Sehwag loses his wicket in the bargain and feeds that fielder, so be it, its business as usual. It just another innings that's come to an end, nothing more, nothing less.
Again, conventional wisdom (one that you might still find dwelling in men like Geoffrey Boycott) says that if you hit a boundary, don't get excited if you get a half volley for the next ball. Just tap it around for a single or a brace, eschew risk, don't get carried away. Sehwag differs here, says that I play my cricket by the simple principle: See ball, hit ball. It's this simple thinking that got him 284 runs of 239 balls against Sri Lanka last year. Coming in to bat with 393 to cross, he batted in a manner that would have given men like Boycott and his slower version Chris Tavare (can there be anyone slower than Boycs? Yes, there was) nightmares after nightmares. When men like the revered Sunny would have pushed, prodded and accumulated runs at less than 40 as strike rate and been delighted to finish at 50 after batting for 79 overs, he went hell for leather. What's all this about ensuring safety, he asked with each stroke, and didn't care if purists looked at him with disdain, or delighted in his daring.
Yet, I maintain that he is essentially an orthodox player. The footwork, yes, is limited, often non-existent; however, observe the way he shifts body weight, compensating amply for his reluctance to acknowledge good footwork as an essential for batting greatness. Yet, if you look from a purist's eye, his strokes are, by and large conventional, very copybook. With just a little liberty taken, here and there. Watching him bat gives you the feeling that he has opened, dusted, and dried the copy book in the sun, made it breathe, and bring it alive the way it was supposed to be. He makes the same dull strokes look exhilarating, creates freshness with the way he plays the pull shot and brings in a rare grace every time he drives through cover. Just because he plays or tries to play strokes to match each delivery bowled to him is, it seems, enough to label him unconventional, unorthodox. Seems like convoluted logic to me, but the purists will say that they know better. That's why, when I say that he and his methods should be the new coaching manual that can bring crowds back to test cricket, they will scoff and say that they know better.
Well, ask them to score at a strike rate of 100 plus.