It took nearly four decades for a batsman to score the first double-century in one-day international cricket but less than two years for the second. Virender Sehwag, the batsman most touted to break Sachin Tendulkar‘s record for the highest individual ODI score, didn’t merely break it – he shattered it and raised the bar so high that it’s hard to imagine anyone, apart from Sehwag himself, raising it higher.
Unlike Tendulkar in Gwalior, Sehwag wasn’t running out of time as he raced towards 200 in Indore. He got there in the 44th over and had made 219 off 149 balls by the time he was dismissed in the 47th. And in one of cricket’s stranger coincidences, both ODI double-centuries were scored in the same Indian state – Madhya Pradesh – at venues less than 500 kilometres apart.
Sehwag’s performance led India to 418 for 5, their highest ODI total, and sealed victory in the five-match series against West Indies. It was an innings characteristic of Sehwag’s approach to batting. He hit his second ball for four and simply did not stop. He took plenty of risks too, surviving two run-out chances and two dropped catches, but thundered on, ensuring India’s run-rate stayed above seven after the 15th over. Sehwag’s only out-of-character moment came in the 20th over, when he dived to avoid being run out. Sehwag never dives. It was a sign that he was determined to stay the course. He went to 50 off 41 balls, to 100 off 69 balls, to 150 off 112 and past 200 off 140. The record was broken with a withering cut that sped to the backward-point boundary, and he celebrated with an aggressive fist-pump before breaking into a smile.
Before this game, and after each of the previous three, Sehwag had admitted that the top-order failures, which he contributed to, were the reason India had struggled in their chases. Sehwag had made a duck in the previous match in Ahmedabad, where India lost, but led by example today.
India did two things differently at the Holkar Cricket Stadium. They chose to bat for the first time in the series and also opened with their strongest combination, Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, pushing Parthiv Patel down the order. The upshot of those decisions was an opening partnership of 176 that began smoothly, picked up speed, and gathered the momentum of a runaway train before it was eventually ended, inevitably, by a run-out.
A strong crowd continued the trend of resurging attendances during the home ODIs and they cheered the first boundary in the second over, when Sehwag flicked Ravi Rampaul’s first ball for four – a welcome he would give several other West Indian bowlers. Sehwag looked dangerous from the start. Gambhir did not. After making only 3 off 15 balls, Gambhir finally had the width he needed and cut Kemar Roach to the point boundary.
Both batsmen could have been dismissed on 20, though. Sehwag had given up hope of making his ground but Kieron Pollard missed the stumps from point, and Andre Russell dropped Gambhir on his follow through. Gambhir began to steer, cut and drive through the off side frequently, going over fielders’ heads and placing wide of the boundary riders. Seven of his first nine fours were in this region. India ended the mandatory Powerplay on 63 for 0.
The field spread after that but it didn’t matter. Sehwag and Gambhir scored 45 runs between overs 11 and 15. This passage began with Sehwag hoisting the offspinner Sunil Narine’s first ball over the long-on boundary. He then launched Darren Sammy’s first inside out over extra cover. This passage ended with Sehwag hammering Narine again, this time into the stands beyond deep midwicket.
The field came in for the bowling Powerplay and Gambhir immediately cut Roach through point, and then dabbed for a single to reach his half-century off 51 balls. The smash-and-dab combo was a feature of the partnership. Sehwag got to his hundred with a fierce cut, hit in the air, brushing the fingertips of the leaping fielder at point before speeding to the boundary. The next ball, he ran Gambhir out, to a direct hit from Samuels. Visibly upset with himself, Sehwag continued to punish West Indies.
When he was hitting fours, Sehwag preferred to go square of the wicket, flicking and glancing the numerous deliveries he received on the pads, and opening the face to pepper the backward-point boundary. When he wanted six, he usually went straighter, targeting the arc between midwicket and long-on. He hit 25 fours and seven sixes in all. On 170, in the 38th over, Sehwag spooned Rampaul towards cover, where Sammy dropped a dolly, leaving the bowler distraught.
The rest of the innings was a blur of boundaries and landmarks. Suresh Raina got to his half-century off 42 balls. India reached 300 in 39.1 overs. Sehwag broke his personal best – 175 against Bangladesh in the World Cup – with a flick to the square-leg boundary. He went past 8000 ODI runs with a chip over the fielder at short fine leg. That shot took him from 191 to 195, and soon he was cutting Russell to send India into rapture. When Sehwag was dismissed – lofting Pollard to the substitute Anthony Martin at long-off – most of the West Indian fielders came from far and wide to shake his hand.
Sehwag did not come out to field – the only blot on his performance – and watched from the dressing room as West Indies’ top-order batsmen crashed and burned amid a flurry of shots. India’s debutant legspinner Rahul Sharma struck with the last ball of each of his first three overs in international cricket, bowling Marlon Samuels, Danza Hyatt and Pollard to leave West Indies reeling at 100 for 5.
Rahul, who’s been in India’s squads since the home ODIs against England but stayed on the bench, bowled a variety of deliveries. He sent down legbreaks, googlies and topspinners at varying speeds, but it was the one delivered quicker that brought him success.
Samuels tried to cut a fast topspinner but bottom-edged it onto his stumps. Hyatt then stepped out of the crease, but was yorked by a fast legbreak. The ball pitched outside leg stump and spun between the batsman’s pads to bowl him. Pollard was the next to go, swinging across the line and missing a topspinner that clipped off stump.
After losing more wickets, West Indies decided to bat out time instead of playing shots, and the match ended in stark contrast to how it began – tamely. Denesh Ramdin, however, made 96, his best score and the highest by a West Indies wicketkeeper in ODIs. His 64-run partnership with No. 11 Sunil Narine merely kept India on the field longer than they would have liked.