Aussie pitches suit Sehwag

R. V. MOORTHY

India needs to put runs on the board, and a good start will be imperative for the middle-order to consolidate. Virender Sehwag is the one capable of providing such a start.

The recent series between India and Pakistan lacked the usual fizz and excitement that one normally associates with the clash between these two teams. This was largely due to the media not creating hype prior to the series. Besides, the visitors were handicapped by injuries to key players which did not provide for tight games.

However, the Indians will be pleased with their performance and will be buoyant as they embark on a tough tour to Australia. Though the on-field display lacked the usual spice, there was enough and more drama off the field, brought about by the fracas between Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of the selection committee, and the BCCI. The issue ended in an anti-climax with both sides deciding to sort matters out through a “discussion”.

Eventually, the chairman of the selection committee and his colleagues sat down to pick the team for the tour of Australia. The inclusion of Virender Sehwag will be the talking point as the Delhi batsman did not even figure in the list of probables for the tour. Sehwag’s exclusion from the probables’ list was more surprising than his inclusion in the squad, as he is the best bet considering the other options available.

Akash Chopra was in the frame but Gambhir’s injury provided the selectors the opportunity to include Sehwag in the squad. Whether the selectors would have gone for Sehwag had not Gambhir been injured will remain a mystery.

It has to be mentioned in the defence of the selection committee that Sehwag can be expected to bring more to the table than Chopra. Of course, Chopra played his part well on the last tour of Australia, but one must remember that it was Sehwag’s blazing form that took the pressure off Chopra and the middle-order batsmen.

The selection committee’s mistake was that they did not categorise Sehwag in the right format of the game. By this I mean that Sehwag has done better in Tests than in one-dayers, and hence he should have been deemed a Test player. Sehwag was dropped for the Tests against Bangladesh after his poor run in South Africa, but there are times when a proven player needs to be given some leeway to get back into his groove. The Bangladesh series would have been an ideal one for Sehwag to regain his form, but the selectors picked him for the one-dayers though his record in limited overs cricket is not as good as in Tests.

Now that he has been selected for the tour of Australia, Sehwag will be aware that his entire career might hinge on how he performs down under. As a result, he will be extremely focused. There is more pace and bounce than lateral movement on Australian pitches and this will suit Sehwag’s game.

India needs to put runs on the board and a good start will be imperative for the middle order to consolidate. Not only the start must be good but it must also be a positive one and among all the options available, Sehwag is the one capable of providing such a start. One of the reasons for Sehwag’s success in Tests is because he plays attacking shots off the back-foot and Australia is the place for such kind of players. The Australians are not the same if denied success in the early overs, and if someone can take the fight into their camp, they can be rattled.

The Australian attack will be without Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, but the likes of Lee, Johnson and Tait can still be a handful. There is always the chance that Sehwag might fail, but it is better to lose by being aggressive than lose by being submissive.

The main concern for India will be in the bowling department. Zaheer Khan and R. P. Singh bowled well in England and they will be expected to deliver once again, regularly and efficiently. The likes of Ishant Sharma and Pankaj Singh will have the opportunity to learn the ropes as they both are promising and have the potential to become leading bowlers in the future.

The two spinners, Kumble and Harbhajan, have a lot of experience but it will be tough for them to get the majority of the wickets on tracks that are not as spinner friendly as the ones in the sub-continent. Whether a four-bowler attack will be enough to bowl the Aussies out will be the big question on Kumble’s mind. The Australians normally make it a point to go after the opposition skipper in order to gain the mental edge. Unlike other captains in international cricket, Kumble is a bowler and it can be counter-productive for the Aussies if they go after him.

It will be Kumble’s last tour to Australia. So it will be for the senior middle-order batsmen such as Tendulkar, Dravid, Ganguly and Laxman. Hence they would like to leave a lasting impression in Australia. If they all perform as well as they did the last time around, they can really spoil the party for the Aussies. In the event of India prevailing over Australia, a few heads could roll in the Aussie line-up. A similar fate would greet the senior Indian cricketers too if they don’t live up to expectations.