If, at the end of the day, cricket at the highest level is all about confidence, there are few better examples of this than Virender Sehwag. There are few players who trust their instincts more implicitly, back themselves to perform irrespective of the quality of opposition, conditions or form than Sehwag.
For almost two years, he has not had reason to raise his bat in the direction of the dressing room and India's adoring fans in the format of the game that he's most successful at. For all Sehwag's piratical strokeplay, it is Test cricket that he has made his own, batting long and changing the face of games singlehandedly.
However, on England's first day of proper cricket on this tour, it took Sehwag just two hours to push the opposition onto the back foot, give his team-mates the lift they needed on a slow pitch and stamp his imprint on the game.
He did so not with a volley of scathing boundaries through cover and point – Sehwag's trademark – but with the patient and careful way in which he left deliveries alone.
With the ball not moving off the straight for the seamers, Sehwag was free to hit through the line, and indeed over the top, had he so desired. Yet the fact that he did not take the aerial route more than twice till he brought up a 45-ball half-century, was unusual.
"I have to thank DJ [CKM Dhananjay] our video analyst," he said. "He gave me videos of the last 10 matches that I've played and whenever I played 10 overs quietly I scored a big hundred.
"We were watching videos last night till 11pm. I realised that if I played the new ball cautiously it's good for me and good for the team."
These days it's hardly commendable that a Test player watched videos with an analyst, but it does show that a 30-innings run without scoring a hundred was beginning to play on Sehwag's mind. In typical fashion, he dismisses this suggestion and said the team never doubted his ability and neither did he. The fact, is though, that Sehwag's century drought has coincided with India's sharpest decline in recent memory.
A middle-order that included Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman had all the time in the world to do what they did best, when Sehwag fired at the top of the order. It's not mere coincidence that Ind ia's 4-0 defeats in England and Australia last year happened when Sehwag was not at his best.
Repeatedly, India's players have spoken about how different the dressing room is when Sehwag is on song, and while his runs calm his team-mates, they equally go a long way in putting the bowlers off their game.
"You have to hand it to Viru, the way he played at the start," said Graeme Swann, who eventually dismissed Sehwag for 117 off as many balls when a colossal heave to leg made contact only with air.
"We know he can be destructive, he's done it against us before. I've been reading in the paper that he hasn't got a century for a couple of years and he's been questioned by the local press … Good on him for banishing those doubters."
This century, coming as it did after a gap of nearly 23 months, when Sehwag previously took apart a New Zealand attack to score 173 in a day at the same venue, will give him some room to breathe.
It will allow him to continue to play with the kind of freedom that makes him the batsman he is. Although Sehwag insisted that he did not feel the pressure of public criticism because his team was completely behind him, no man lives in a vacuum, and a little reassurance does go a long way.
It is also worth noting that though Sehwag spoke so highly of his team, his response was singular when asked who had supported him through his recent tough times and helped him work on his game. "Myself only," said Sehwag, who will find, after his 23rd Test hundred, that he is no longer alone.
Anand Vasu is managing editor of Wisden India (www.wisdenindia.com).Reuse content