I originally typed this post about Sehwag, but after spending five minutes trying to decide which of the Sehwag threads to post it in, I decided to start a new one as it has wider implications on every supposed flat-track-bully of this decade who averages 50 odd. While the specific examples will all relate to Sehwag, you can essentially apply them to Hayden, Yousuf, Jayawardene, Samaraweera (to an extent anyway) or anyone else who is degraded for doing nothing more than adapting their game to succeed in the conditions they are regularly presented with.
I've always been a denier of Sehwag's status as a great batsman. While I acknowledged his ability to score big runs on pitches that don't offer sideways movement for the quicks, I felt he fell short of greatness due to the complete lack of any innings of note on a seamer. In a way my opinion on that still hasn't changed - unlike most who push the case for Sehwag, I'm not going to pretend that he actually has played such an innings by inventing a greentop or citing irrelevant ODI games - my opinion on what Sehwag has done hasn't actually changed. What has changed is my opinion on its context: I'm proposing that given the extreme rarity of such a pitch in international cricket today, the ability to score runs on a greentop is actually largely irrelevant to how effective a batsman is going to be in today's landscape. Pitches around the world are flat in a majority of cases - and when they aren't it's usually because they deteriorate and get uneven later on. Tracks that offer sideways movement for genuine seamers are a rarity outside of South Africa.
The first hurdle people have to get over is the insistence on rating players from one era based on how they'd go in another. Comparison between players of different eras is very possible, but the only fair and just way to do so is to simply look at comparative success relative to one's peers. If player X was more successful than player Y (relative to their contemporaries of course), regardless of how people think they would have gone if they swapped timeframes, then player X should be regarded as the superior player. Most people seem to rate all players by how they perceive they'd have gone in a specific timeframe - a timeframe that coincidentally aligns with when they started watching cricket seriously. We all have our hangups about what 'real' cricket is, but there's no reason 21st century cricket on flat pitches with short boundaries and big bats, or pre-WWI cricket on uncovered wickets, should be any less relevant from a player-rating perspective than what most of us perceive as the 'true' cricket of the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. Judging Sehwag based on how successful he would have been if he played in the 80s is about as fair as judging Sangakkara based on how successful he would have been as a leg spinner or how successful Lara would have been as a 1920s wicket keeper on uncovered wickets. Sehwag's job isn't to bat in such a way that makes people think he'd be a success in theoretical circumstances; it's develop his game to be as effective as he can for his country, and he's far more effective averaging 60 on subcontinental wickets and failing once every five years when India tour South Africa than he would be if he could score 150 on a seamer and then no runs again for four years. His hypothetical success in another decade is completely irrelevant, not to mention unfair given it's quite logical to suggest he'd have a significantly different game if he encountered different conditions regularly. What he should be judged on is what he did relative to contemporaries, and this certainly puts him in the great batsman class.
The second point people bring up does have a bit more merit. Some of us can accept the world of flat pitches but still go at pains to point out that it still means more runs are being scored, and hence everyone's averages are inflated. This is true, but not really quite to the extent people want to believe. I'm going to standardise the averages of Sehwag and Steve Waugh based on the the bowling averages of their opposition during their careers.
Opposition Runs Avg Team Stdsd Stdsd
Bowl Runs Avg
Australia 1483 51.13 29.47 1512 52.13
Bangladesh 23 11.50 49.72 14 6.95
England 527 31.00 34.25 462 27.19
New Zealand 357 27.46 33.98 316 24.28
Pakistan 1276 91.14 35.06 1093 78.09
South Africa 872 51.29 32.18 814 47.88
Sri Lanka 891 74.25 30.49 878 73.15
West Indies 643 53.58 41.49 466 38.80
Zimbabwe 176 58.66 43.67 121 40.36
Overall 6248 52.50 5675 47.69
Now it's only one example I know, but you could take any player for any decade you liked and compare them to Sehwag and you'd get similar results. As this shows, even after taking the difficulty (or lackthereof) of run-scoring against each team during each player's career into account, Sehwag's record is still very much comparable to Steve Waugh's (besides the longevity of it, obviously, but Sehwag's still playing).
Opposition Runs Avg Team Stdsd Stdsd
Bowl Runs Avg
Bangladesh 256 - 56.53 136 -
England 3200 58.18 35.46 2711 49.29
India 1090 41.92 34.01 963 37.03
New Zealand 1117 38.51 35.43 947 32.66
Pakistan 934 34.59 29.04 966 35.78
South Africa 1147 49.86 27.92 1234 53.66
Sri Lanka 701 87.62 33.72 624 78.06
West Indies 2192 49.81 29.90 2202 50.05
Zimbabwe 290 145.00 38.96 224 111.80
Overall 10927 51.06 10007 46.76
To summarise, I've basically come around to face the reality of the fact that scoring runs on flat pitches with clinical efficiency and regularity is what being successful in this decade of batting is all about, and thus batsmen who manage it to such a ridiculously high standard should be shown the respect they deserve as the stars of their era. I'm not saying that we shouldn't look at other factors, of course (pressure situations, good bowling etc), but the flat pitches argument really needs to be taken into better context, particularly when said matches actually have a result.