Poor attack aside, Virender Sehwag's 199-ball 173 today was a masterclass on how to bat on a slow and low wicket. It was an innings that Sachin Tendulkar would have been proud of, having played many such gems the first half of his career. But it was so very different from any Tendulkar innings.

Its been so long since people viewed Sehwag as a Tendulkar clone. In his early days, from the time he batted alongside the master in his debut Test, Sehwag was labeled The New Tendulkar. His idolization of Tendulkar aside, the stance, grip, backlift and shot selection was eerily similar. When they opened together against England the ODI series of 2002, many found it difficult to differentiate. There was even a chase in that series when the pair seemed to be trying to outdo each other, shot for shot. If Tendulkar drove on the up past extra cover, Sehwag repeated the shot with more ferocity. If Sehwag clipped off his toes, Tendulkar outdid him for sheer panache and placement as if to say hang on, that's my shot.

Sehwag is an artist as much as Tendulkar is, but today there are differences in their styles. Tendulkar innings are studies of character. Sehwag's innings are studies of plot. Indeed, you could say he's an artist of plot.

This is both Sehwag's brilliance and his weakness. Sehwag can frustrate as much as he can thrill. In the same match he can scythe through an attack on the opening morning en route to a rollicking century. In the second innings he can flash at the first ball and nick to second slip. His centuries are most often like a madcap Glasgow pub crawl: it makes you elated in the moment and sorry when its over. His oeuvre encompasses the gamut from sublime to suspect, and there is much to be frustrated about. There is no denying his extreme popularity the world over. He is the most fascinating cricketer going around today. His willingness to laugh at himself only adds to his likeable character.

Sunil Gavaskar, on air today, said he thought Sehwag often got bored after crossing a quick century and that he should put his mind to sorting out ways to play the short delivery better. I disagree. Sehwag's beauty is that independent-minded aesthetic; he wants to entertain. Any ideas that pop up about his technique or conditions or the bowler running in are secondary.

To see him signal a free hit today after Chris Martin overstepped, and then nonchalantly drive the next ball for four, was to appreciate him for what he is. A maverick, a free spirit.


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