December 18, 2008

Sehwag indeed made the difference at Chennai


By Syed Khalid Mahmood

It’s not often that someone having scored an eighty is adjudged the Man of the Match ahead of two centurions. In fact England’s Andrew Strauss had scored a century in each innings and India’s Sachin Tendulkar had played probably the innings of his lifetime, scoring an unbeaten century in the second innings to guide his team to a famous victory in the first Test at the M A Chidambaram Stadium in Chennai.

But what a great decision it was to declare Virender Sehwag as the Man of the Match because primarily it was his dazzling knock of 83 on the fourth evening that laid the foundation for an Indian win when chasing a target of 387 on a wearing track.

It was very sporting of the Indian skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni to acknowledge in his brief chat during the presentation ceremony that it was Sehwag’s innings that prompted his team to think in terms of a victory rather than settling for a draw.

It’s hard to imagine that India would have even entertained hopes of attempting a victory when their openers went out to start the second innings. Mind you the England captain, Kevin Pietersen, had declared the innings. Obviously he must have thought that the target of 387 in the fourth innings of the game was next to impossible to attain even for the best batting side in the world.

Had Pietersen any doubt or reservations in his mind he would have instructed his lower-order batsmen to occupy the crease for a longer period of time. Ideally he might have wanted to set a target of 400 but he didn’t delay the declaration once the ninth wicket fell.

Only two results had looked possible when he took out his troops to the field in the final session of the fourth day. India could have been tipped to salvage a draw if the likes of Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar spent long time at the crease to ward off the danger.

Although England had entered the game as the underdogs, they must have fancied their chances of going one-up in the series after having looked the better team on more than one count.An Indian win was theoretically possible but taking into account the ground realities it was least likely going to happen.

Everyone knew the capabilities of Virender Sehwag, who has scored not one but two triple centuries in Test cricket. He had won India numerous games in the past but was there anybody to believe that he would kickstart the big chase in such brilliant fashion.

The conditions were not ideal for batting. The England bowlers and fielders had their tails-up. They sensed victory. They would have hated to think in terms of letting India escape with a draw. The momentum was with the visitors as they thought that they had the hosts on the mat.

All it took was another Sehwag special and the mission impossible starting looking probable. He took the fight to the England camp by hammering their bowlers to all parts of the park from the outset. His flurry of boundaries made the mockery of the plans Pietersen had up his sleeves.

Sehwag’s sixes and fours changed the entire complexion of the game and by the time he was adjudged leg before, India had reasons to believe that a victory for them was now a possibility. He deserved a hundred but as we found out his 83 had done enough damage to the confidence of the England bowlers who appeared to have lost their self-belief in a matter of an hour or so.

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