Sehwag and the Situation Criticism

Posted on December 31, 2010 by

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[Editor’s note: This post by Gaurav started as a response to the guest column by Straight Point , “Sehwag – natural play vs team cause” but quickly got long enough to be a post on its own.]

The problem with much of analysis about whether Sehwag’s approach was in keeping with the situation or not, is that it is post hoc. Hindsight is 20-20, as the cliché goes. Throw your mind back to Chennai 2008. England had set India over 380 runs. Sehwag went apeshit, made 85 from 65 or something, and set up a comfortable chase. If he had been caught in the deep attempting one of those many sixes on, say, 25 or 30, and India had collapsed and lost the series, a post just like this could have been written – why not be cautious and steer your team to a draw? Why, after getting a start, throw it away? Heck, even after he got out in the 80s (LBW trying to sweep I think), if Sachin hadn’t made a century and India had collapsed and lost, such a post could have been written – why throw it away on 80 when the team situation demanded his presence, considering India’s (then) penchant for 5th day collapses? The “situation” demanded that he be cautious, or so on. Now throw your mind back to 2009; third test at Brabourne vs. Sri Lanka. What was the “situation”? India already had a 1-0 lead in the series. SL batted first and made almost 400, not a score to sneeze at. If India collapsed, or not collapsed but even conceded a lead of 75-100, it could give SL a chance to claw back into the match, win it, and level the series.

Given this “situation”, the conventional wisdom would be, if you get a start, be cautious, guard your wicket, get a lead, first ensure a draw (so the series win is confirmed), and then push for a win in the match. So when Sehwag got off to a brisk start, much like at Centurion, the “situation” would have demanded that he treat Herath and the great Murali with some respect. When Sangakkara set defensive fields, the “situation” would have demanded that Sehwag milk the field, and guide the team to safety. We all know what he did instead. He went at Lanka hammer and tongs; Lofted shots, dancing down the wicket and taking on the outfield for most of his 7 or 8 sixes; made almost 300 in a day at a strike rate of 115. And flipped the “situation” on its head – from one that looked like a match Lanka couldn’t lose and India may have to save, to one that Lanka went on to lose very easily, solely because Sehwag enabled India to put on 700+ at a breathtaking pace. If he had slowed down, even to a respectable strike rate of 80, the match would probably have ended in a draw. If one of those waltzes down the track against the spinners had been pouched in the deep when he was on 40 or 60, and India had gone on to lose, such a post could have been written.

So the whole “Viru played a shot that went against what the situation demands” post hoc argument is fallacious firstly because it assumes that there is one set situation that can never change. But that’s not how Viru plays. He is a once-in-a-several-generations player with that quality even Sachin doesn’t possess – of single-handedly redefining the situation. He can redefine situations because of the speed he plays at. And it includes risks he takes that, obviously percentage-wise, work out (or he wouldn’t average 50+ at a strike rate of 80+). Secondly, the post hoc argument is fallacious because it is…well….post hoc! So it can never be disproved. We now know that India went on to lose in Centurion. But imagine if Viru’s wham bam approach had kept going, we had wiped out the deficit and maybe nosed ahead by 200 or so which SA had to get in 2 sessions. And there had been a 2001 Eden gardens style win. Sounds fairytale-like? More fairytale-like than an Indian win by an innings would have sounded after Day 1 in Brabourne in 2009? I agree with one commenter’s criticism of the execution of the shot itself – moving too early, and so on. Yup, Viru goofed up there. And his reaction showed it. But I really don’t agree with the criticism that Viru should not have attempted the shot because the field was spread out and the “situation” demanded restraint.

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Article by GauravSabnis