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Sad end for Viru?
The writing is on the wall for the master of hand-eye coordination.
Have we just witnessed the end of an era in Indian cricket? This thought is troubling most cricket followers in India after Virender Sehwag was dropped from the Indian team for the final two Tests against Australia. It is possible that we have seen the last of a batsman who changed the grammar and language of batsmanship, particularly opening batting, in Test cricket. And if we indeed have, it is a sad, harsh reality for the sport itself, not just Indian cricket. The Indian domestic season is almost over and the next one doesn't start until November. In between, all that the freshly-bespectacled 34-year-old will get to prove himself again, is T20 tournaments. But it looks highly doubtful that a 100 off 60 balls in an IPL cliff-hanger would convince the selectors that Viru is still a top dog in international cricket.
Having already lost his ODI and T20 spots, the 'Nawab of Najafgarh' perhaps faces the biggest battle of his career as he would strive to bounce back and claim a berth in the Indian party to South Africa in November. On Thursday, the day of his axe, he was adamant that he was not going to retire, and knowing Viru, it's not surprising. "Will continue to work hard for my place in the team. I trust my game and am confident that I'll be back, " Sehwag wrote on his twitter page.
A spot in the middle-order, once a realistic place for Viru to be in, looks highly unlikely now, even with the impending retirement of Sachin Tendulkar. The selectors are likely to prefer a youngster to fill in that slot. To make matters worse, Sehwag hasn't had the best of relationships with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni, who, ironically, is suddenly in the midst of the time of his life. A comeback case for Sehwag may not enjoy the captain's vote.
"To be honest, he is a great player, but the game is greater than anyone, " points out former India batsman Pravin Amre. "He failed in three consecutive innings against the Aussies - a team against whom a good start is a must. It would have been worse for him at Mohali, as the pitch there has more for the pacers than what the pitches offered in the first two Tests. So, you have to look at what is currently the best available option for the team, " he added.
"It is definitely not the end of the road for him. He just lacks form at the moment. He was having a lean patch for a while, but the selectors still persisted with him to come good. It is better for him that he plays domestic cricket at this stage to force his way back into the team, " says Lalchand Rajput, who coached the Indian team which won the World T20 title in 2007.
Whether Sehwag can yet be written off is open to debate but it is mystifying as to how a batsman who was considered the biggest ace in India's pack, the biggest match-winner not so long ago, is now merely a pale shadow of his destructive self. Clearly, it can't be his technique. He has played away from the body, not moved his feet and not patted the good balls all through his life. And yet, he has succeeded in the most hostile of conditions, made a mockery of the fiercest of pace attacks. Scoring two triple hundreds, that too against the likes of Pakistan and South Africa, is no joke;nor is amassing 8, 586 runs in 104 Tests.
To his die-hard fans, Sehwag even seemed better than Tendulkar at one point! His brilliant hand-eye coordination, coupled with the ability to keep things simple - banking on the see-the-ball-and-hit-the-ball credo - won the heart of even a purist, as former England opener Geoff Boycott testified. "I hate to take loo breaks when Viru is in the middle, " Boycott had famously remarked.
At his best, Viru appeared a modern-day avatar of the West Indian master Viv Richards, putting the fear of God in the bowlers' hearts just like the original 'Master Blaster'. Sadly, those same hands and eyes of Viru which made for a perfect symphony now provide for jarring music. Slowing reflexes and now a minor correction in his vision that has forced him to wear spectacles, haven't made things easy.
"It is not easy to bat with glasses all of a sudden. This axing will give him an opportunity to get used to batting with spectacles. In fact, this break will give both Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir the time to regroup, sit back and reflect on their game. It is a big test for them, " says former India opener WV Raman, while pointing out a pertinent reason for Sehwag's decline. "I think in the period before the series against New Zealand at home, India, and Sehwag in particular, played a lot of T20s and ODIs. That affected his game, as it doesn't give you time to settle at the wicket, " he says.
Certainly, too much of slam-bang cricket has hurt both Sehwag's and Gambhir's form. Perhaps, quitting the limited-over formats may just make Sehwag hungrier to regain his spot in Test cricket - a format he clearly enjoys and excels playing in. Amre has a piece of advice. "I would tell him to take a leaf out of Sachin Tendulkar's book. Tendulkar too looked out of form but bounced back superbly after scoring a really, really special hundred in the Irani Cup. Sehwag too can do that, " he says. Tonnes of runs in First Class cricket would surely help Sehwag find not just form but also that crucial link which that makes him really dangerous - confidence.
What didn't help Sehwag's case at the selection meeting was the drop in his fielding standards too. His coach AN Sharma claims that Sehwag works as hard on his fitness as anyone else. If that indeed is the case, it must show the next time when he comes out to bat, hopefully as a leaner, fitter man reminding us of an earthy youngster who demolished bowling attacks with a Kishore Kumar number on his lips! The easy catch of Australian opener David Warner which Sehwag dropped in the slips in the first Test in Chennai, also tells us that in order to keep pace with the youth, he must work much more on his fielding.
"We have many away tours, starting with the trip to South Africa, next season, and we would need him to come back strong, " says Rajput, "He is a batsman who can push the opposition on the backfoot straight away with his strokeplay. We all hope he gets back into form soon enough. "
This is not the first time that Sehwag has walked into the zone of uncertainty. He did bounce back with a bang when he was dropped in 2007. But he was six years younger then. This time, his worst fear would be that he has been dumped for good - condemned to play First Class cricket because selecting him again would be a 'regressive step'. That is not how one of the greatest entertainers of our times should or would want to go. Maybe it is meant to be that way. And if it is so, Boycott and all of us can take that loo break peacefully, without worrying about missing the score leaping from 0/0 to 20/0 in the space of a mere six balls!
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