New Delhi:Let us forget that the dead wicket the Chennai Test is being played on. Virender Sehwag, demonstrating madness associated only with genius, has set up the game up for an unlikely win for India. If the pitch turns now, it's game on for Messrs Kumble and Harbhajan.
True, this pitch is a bowler guillotine. But it still needed an unbelievably good display of batting for India to come back into this game after South Africa had made 540.
That's exactly what Sehwag produced - his 309 runs, some record-equalling, mostly record-breaking, runs have made a dead game interesting. More than that, India would be relieved to get back their Sehwag of old.
Out goes the impostor
For a couple of years, an impostor stood in Sehwag's step, throwing away his wicket after quick starts, not learning from mistakes. The real Sehwag came out in Chennai, by his own admission "hurting from being dropped from the Test side", and batted like he was in a computer game set to slog mode.
It wasn't as easy as it looked. These are the same conditions in which Dean Jones lost seven kilos in the famous tied Test and had to be put on saline drip. Neil McKenzie lost four kilos on Wednesday during his 94.
But Sehwag kept at it in breathtaking fashion. To cross 100, 200 and 300 in one day - all at breakneck speed - needs super-human patience, stamina and strength. Only two people have crossed these milestones in one day - Don Bradman and Brian Lara. And Bradman played in times when an over rate of 20-25 was routine.
Yet, the real beauty of the innings must have been in making Graeme Smith believe that there's a wicket around the corner. Each time Smith thought he was an inch away from tagging Sehwag, the batsman would suddenly put 50 yards between them.
Madness, thy name is Virender
Sehwag slogged two near-sixes off Jacques Kallis to move from 95 to 103. Facing Makhaya Ntini on 193, he played the ugliest slog ever by anyone so close to a double. The ball hung in the air and a catch was on - for the spectators ten rows back at the long leg boundary. Then, on 291, he stepped out to Paul Harris, tonking him over the sightscreen.
During his Multan innings in 2004, Sehwag moved from 295 to 301 in one blow. But on Friday, his 300th run wasn't as heart attack inducing. He flicked away a full toss from Ntini to square leg for a single, becoming the first batsman in history to score a triple century home and away.
Each time Sehwag looked tired and on the verge of a rash shot, his partner at the other end, first Wasim Jaffer and then Rahul Dravid, would ask him to turn over the strike to cool off at the bowler's end.
It was demoralising for the bowlers. Dale Steyn, South Africa's find of the winter, and Ntini were seen shaking their heads in disbelief at various times. Sehwag found the most acute of angles through the field, frustrating the bowlers no end.
Paul Harris even switched to bowling a leg-stump line. Sehwag retaliated by opening up his stance, reverse-sweeping Harris with disturbing regularity. The only shot he didn't play was the hook but the pacers weren't bowling it high enough.
Worst, Sehwag is not finished yet. He might be exhausted to death but he's set to surpass his own highest Test score. Also on everyone's mind is Lara's record of 400. The way Sehwag has gone about, 400 might turn out to be a mere stop on the way. Yet, if India fail to bowl South Africa out, Sehwag's outrageous assault would be forgotten as a mere statistic in a dead game.
Break-up of Sehwag's innings
50 - 59 balls, 6x4, 1x6
100 - 116 b, 15x4, 1x6
150 - 171 b, 23x4, 1x6
200 - 194 b, 32x4, 2x6
250 - 225 b, 38x4, 3x6
300 - 278 b, 41x4, 5x6
309* - 292 b, 41x4, 5x6