The sixth over of India's innings on day two of the Chennai Test told a story of two different characters. To watch a clueless Virender Sehwag search for where the ball that he had just played was, and then fail to push it away before it disturbed his leg stump, and then moments later witness Sachin Tendulkar caress three boundaries in the next four balls aptly summarized where the two batsman are in their careers.
Here were two senior batsmen - the most-capped in the Indian XI, in fact - in the middle of major slumps in form and with their team having lost an early wicket in reply to Australia's 380. An Indian team in transition had recently dropped Gautam Gambhir; the recalled Murali Vijay had just been bowled by a 150kph yorker. The batsmen to follow were a struggling Virat Kohli, an under-fire MS Dhoni and Ravindra Jadeja in his second Test and with plenty of doubt over his abilities as a Test allrounder. The onus was on Sehwag and Tendulkar to hold the opening slot and middle order with distinction.
Both batsmen came into this match short of runs. Tendulkar has not made a Test century in two years; against England in November Sehwag broke a two-year century drought but his form tapered off following that innings and resulted in his axing from the ODI team. If Sehwag had been extended a rope, Tendulkar had critics questioning his durability yet again. How they applied themselves on Friday was indicative of their nature and the manner in which their careers have been defined.
Sehwag, who is not known to mend his ways, didn't show the intent to stay at the crease and contribute to India's cause. The manner in which he was knocked down by Pattinson is sure to set tongues wagging that this might be his last Test series, if not match. He was too late to react to a short-of-a- length delivery which was angling in and took the inside edge of his bat as he tried to defend it. The ball sneaked through and hit the top of the leg stump as Sehwag was left bewildered and unable to spot the ball.
As has been the case with Sehwag, more than his dismissal, it was his devil-may-care attitude that left the spectators frustrated. This has been the case with Sehwag for many years but he refuses to wizen up. It's as if he prefers to live in denial mode.
In the complete contrast was Tendulkar's implacable resolve. He started with two beautiful drive that pierced the cover field like a knife through butter and followed it a guide to the fine leg boundary. The tone was set and Tendulkar looked absolutely determined to score runs, in what may be his last Test series in India. He gave every ounce of his concentration and sweat in a bid to compile a stirring innings.
Tendulkar picked the deliveries to score on with discretion and pinched singles and doubles against offspinner Nathan Lyon. His voluminous desire to break a dry spell and contribute to the team was there for everyone to see. His footwork was exemplary and he was fluent in his strokeplay. It was apparent that Tendulkar's decision to play domestic cricket after he retired from ODIs has done a world of good to him. The momentum gained from runs in the recent Ranji Trophy and Irani Trophy oozed through his batting today. Tendulkar's demeanour reflected a deep sense of satisfaction. He has carried the burden of the team for 24 years and knows that his job is still half done.
Rewind to November 3, 2001 at Bloemfontein. India were left tottering at 68 for 4 against South Africa on day one of the first Test. Tendulkar was at the crease watching his team-mates bit the dust one after another. This wasn't an unusual sight for Indian cricket. A 23-year-old Sehwag, on debut, sashayed in and scored a glorious century without being overawed by the occasion. With Tendulkar, he put on 220 for the fifth wicket whole matching the maestro stroke-by-stroke. Overnight, Sehwag was given the sobriquet 'Mini-Tendulkar'. Indeed, his batting bore a striking resemblance with Tendulkar and the media went into overdrive proclaiming that India had unearthed another Tendulkar.
Sehwag went onto carve a highly successful Test career and was instrumental in India's success between 2003 and 2010. While some of his shots indeed created an aura of Tendulkar, Sehwag's demeanour and attitude remained a far cry from his role model. His obstinate nature coupled with a lackadaisical attitude hampered Sehwag's growth and he refused to re-invent himself with time and age, something Tendulkar did remarkably well throughout his career.
It is that inability - or refusal, perhaps - to reinvent himself and learn from his mistakes that now leaves Sehwag on the verge of a premature Test exit. It would be a shame if he bows out after a prolonged slump, with his attitude questioned. If he is to hold his place, Sehwag would do himself and his team a huge service by imbibing the determination and solidity that Tendulkar displayed on Saturday.