Hyderabad: Virender Sehwag has rewritten the art of opening the batting in Test cricket with his own unique brand of nonchalant aggression that has forced the best in the business to tear their hair out in frustration.
When in full cry, Sehwag is impossible to stop. Game plans go out the window, strategies torn to pieces, attacks cut to ribbon as he wields his willow like a broadsword. Sehwag has three of the four fastest double hundreds in Test history, and 14 of his 23 hundreds have been in excess of 150. He scores at more than 82 runs per 100 deliveries faced, and India have lost only five Tests in which he has scored a century.
As Sehwag heads into his 100th Test, we look at what we believe are his five best Test innings, in the context of the game, the series, or just because it was simply Sehwag.
1. 108 v South Africa (Bloemfontein, Nov 2001): It was the first day of another overseas Test series, and India were in familiar trouble at 68 for four when Sehwag, on debut, strode out to join Sachin Tendulkar, his idol. Shaun Pollock, Nantie Hayward, Jacques Kallis and Makhaya Ntini were firing on all cylinders but Sehwag overcame understandable early nerves with a classic that had his hero, among others, enthralled. Boundaries flowed with unerring regularity through the offside as Sehwag made 105, off 173 deliveries with 19 fours, and put on 220 in Tendulkar's company. India still managed only 379 and went on to lose the game by nine wickets, but a new batting superstar had announced his arrival. In some style.
2. 309 v Pakistan (Multan, Mar-Apr 2004): Despite a glittering array of batting riches, India hadn't yet produced a triple centurion in Tests. For 18 years until VVS Laxman delightfully eased his way to 281 at the Eden Gardens, Sunil Gavaskar's 236 not out had remained the highest individual score by an Indian. Sehwag emphatically broke into the 300-plus club with an innings of unfettered strokeplay in India's first full series in Pakistan since 1989. Let off in the 60s, he made Pakistan pay with a sensational assault to stamp India's dominance, bringing up both 100 and 300 with massive sixes. He faced just 375 deliveries, smashing 39 fours and six sixes, setting the stage not just for India's innings win in the Test but also their first series win in Pakistan.
3. 83 v England (Chennai, Dec 2008): As 'impact innings' go, this will be hard to match. India had been chasing the game all the way through, conceding a 75-run first-innings advantage and being set 387 for an unlikely victory – the previous highest successful chase in India was only 276. India had close to 120 overs and all the talk was whether they could salvage a draw when, on the fourth evening, Sehwag turned the match on its head. In just over an hour and a half, he sent England scurrying for cover with 11 fours and four sixes in a 68-ball 83. From looking to attack, England were emphatically pushed back on to the defensive all because of one man. Sehwag was dismissed before stumps but had done enough psychological damage, and Sachin Tendulkar and Yuvraj Singh applied the finishing touches sensationally on the last day for a famous, emotional victory less than three weeks after the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai.
4. 201* v Sri Lanka (Galle, Jul-Aug 2008): Teased, tormented and embarrassed by M&M – Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis, the debutant – in the first Test at the SSC ground in Colombo, India's famed batting line-up lay in tatters. Whispers of a 3-0 rout were freely doing the rounds when Sehwag stepped up at Galle, unleashing the kind of mayhem only he can. Such was Sehwag's dominance that he carried his bat in making 201 out of a total of 329 – only Gautam Gambhir (56) and VVS Laxman (39) touched double figures. He didn't so much neutralise as dismantle the M&M threat in a 231-ball essay punctuated by 22 fours and four sixes. It was incredible stuff, almost as if Sehwag was batting in a different game against a different attack to the rest. He made 50 in the second innings too, for good measure, to single-handedly salvage the series, and India's batting reputation.
5. 195 v Australia (Melbourne, Dec 2003): Day one of the Boxing Day Test, and a full house at the intimidating MCG was treated to Sehwag's unique brand of batsmanship. Early in the piece, he and Aakash Chopra, his opening partner, received a working over from Brett Lee, Nathan Bracken and Brad Williams. Soon, it was the bowlers who were being worked over as Sehwag cut loose. The Australians had worked out what they thought was an infallible plan – bowl short and into his ribs, but Sehwag found a way around that with audacity and inimitable innovativeness. In a little over five hours, he raced away to 195, tonking a Simon Katich full toss down deep mid-wicket's throat as he looked for the six that would carry him to his maiden double hundred. It was a stroke that was to change the destination of the match, but by then, the innings had reiterated Sehwag's credentials as a destroyer of any attack, in all conditions.