End of the road?

What does the future hold for Virender Sehwag? The swashbuckling opener is a man on his last chances now.-K. PICHUMANI What does the future hold for Virender Sehwag? The swashbuckling opener is a man on his last chances now.

Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan — all pillars of the Indian team not many years ago — have over these last few months stared at unedifying conclusions to their fine careers. By Shreedutta Chidananda.

It was poignant that Virender Sehwag’s half-century in the Challenger Trophy, his first innings since the Indian Premier League, came at the Holkar Stadium in Indore. It is a small ground by most standards, 50 yards or fewer to the rope on one side. Two years ago, Sehwag made that boundary look even shorter in his mauling of the West Indies, biffing 25 fours and seven sixes en route to a world record 219.

“Whenever I hit the ball into the gaps, it would go for four. Whenever I decided to hit a six, I would hit with a straight bat and it would go for six,” he noted in his charming simplicity afterwards.

It was the innings of a man who, if not at the peak of his powers, was still in possession of most of them. His 38-ball 59 against India Blue recently, though on the same ground and characterised by the same carefree intent, was set against a very different backdrop. Sehwag is a man on his last chances now; and if any hopes had been raised by that innings, they quickly evaporated in the two matches that followed, amidst scores of 8 and 5.

Since being dropped in March, two Tests into the Australia series at home, Sehwag’s future has grown bleaker by his absence. A bracingly fresh side coalesced out of India’s heady Champions Trophy win in the summer and the door, it seems, has been sliding shut on the old guard.

Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir and Sehwag — all pillars of the side not many years ago — have over these last few months stared at unedifying conclusions to their fine careers.

Sehwag will be 35 shortly and appears as the biggest risk of missing the bus. He dropped down the order, as he has maintained is his preference, in Indore; but in only one of three games could he come out to bat any later than the fifth over, and that time he was bowled on his eighth ball. When Sachin Tendulkar does retire from Test cricket, would 35-year-old Sehwag be the frontrunner to occupy his vacated spot? It seems unlikely, but it cannot be precluded.

A decent Test match trial for Sehwag, Gambhir and Zaheer will arrive in Shimoga (October 2-5) and Hubli (October 9-12), where they face the West Indies ‘A’ in two four-day games. The matches may not reveal much, but they could be the difference between the players being recalled and jettisoned.

It could be argued that of the three, it is Zaheer, who last played for India 10 months ago, that the team needs most at the moment. The bowler looks vastly leaner — from the pictures put up on his Twitter page — after his increasingly famous six-week French sojourn in the company of Yuvraj Singh. Another stint with Adrian Le Roux in South Africa has followed. However hopeful he may seem in estimating his own future, it has been pleasing to see Zaheer’s hunger to return.

He will turn 35 before the Hubli game but ahead of tough overseas tours — South Africa (possibly) and New Zealand early next year — the left-armer would be a vital if short-term option, not least to groom the bowlers around him. Zaheer is five wickets away from 300 in Tests; it would be a shame if he were to miss out.

Gambhir’s case is different in that he has the time the other two don’t: he is only nearing 32. Yet his options appear limited. Shikhar Dhawan has grown to be indispensable at the top of the order, and it will take a poor run of scores from Murali Vijay for him to lose his spot. At any rate, Gambhir has not been pulling up trees in his quest to return. The Delhi batsman’s time at Essex brought him one hundred but little else. In the final of the Challenger Trophy, he was out for four, caught playing at a wide delivery.

At one stage, it was hoped that when Anil Kumble, Sourav Ganguly, V. V. S. Laxman, Rahul Dravid and Sachin Tendulkar slowly walked away, the likes of Gambhir, Sehwag, Zaheer and Harbhajan Singh would seamlessly lead the next generation. But things, as they have the nasty habit of doing, take their own course.