Fading star

Another flop show… Indian opener Virender Sehwag is bowled by Australian fast bowler Pattinson cheaply in the first Test at the M. A. Chidambaram Stadium.-V. GANESAN

Is this the end of the road for Virender Sehwag as a Test batsman? The man in question has responded to his omission by declaring that he would fight his way back to the Indian team. The odds, however, are stacked against him, writes S. Dinakar.

“There are times when you want to send him a message. Then, you hold yourself back fearing he might lose that precious ability,” former India coach John Wright said to this writer several summers ago.

The man in question was someone who gave the bowlers nightmares in daylight. The marauding Virender Sehwag destroyed bowlers’ confidence even as he flayed the attack with rapier-like strokes.

Now, the batsman who pummelled the bowlers — whose morale hit rock bottom — to the distant corners of the field is low on self-belief. How times change!

The scene lingers. Sehwag trudging back reluctantly at Uppal on the second morning of the second India-Australia Test, the feeling of disappointment enhanced with every step on his way to the pavilion. Deep down, Sehwag would have realised the significance of his dismissal.

The opener had edged paceman Peter Siddle on the second morning. Hoping against hope, he waited for the umpire’s decision before Kumar Dharmasena indicated that it was time to leave. At his peak, Sehwag would have, possibly, slashed the same delivery — just outside the off stump — between point and third man, either past or over the ropes. With his powerful short-arm jab, Sehwag does not need width outside off; he can create it out of nowhere.

Given his run of scores and the manner in which he has batted — directionless and tentative — Sehwag was clearly vulnerable when the selectors picked the Indian squad for the remaining two Tests. Particularly when another senior opener Gautam Gambhir had been axed before the series for his inconsistent ways in Tests.

Sehwag’s numbers in his last nine Test innings read: 25, 30, 9, 23, 49, 0, 2, 19 and 6. He was clearly running out of time.

The selection panel led by Sandeep Patil has been fearless. It has put emphasis on performance over reputation and has not been swayed by emotions. Sehwag, not surprisingly, found his name missing from the team for the remaining two Tests of the Border-Gavaskar series.

India does not play a Test match before the tour of South Africa late this year and it is unlikely that Sehwag would make the cut for the campaign. Besides, at 34, he is not a young man.

Is this the end of the road for Sehwag as a Test batsman? The man in question has responded to his omission by declaring that he would fight his way back to the Indian team. The odds, however, are stacked against him.

For a batsman who relies on hand-eye coordination, even a slight drop in reflexes could have a major impact on his game. This is precisely why someone such as maestro Sachin Tendulkar is a far better candidate for regaining form.

Tendulkar has the technique to fall back on during tough times — it acts as a shield — while Sehwag lacks a solid foundation to go back to once his from dips. While he could get away with lack of footwork against the moving ball in his pomp, the same deliveries are nailing him now.

Sehwag is now wearing glasses — another indicator of the passing summers. The opener’s greatest asset is to pick the length early and be ready for a response in a jiffy (this is also the reason why an in-form Sehwag gets into position quickly despite ordinary footwork). The question is, despite wearing spectacles, is Sehwag’s vision hundred per cent these days?

The Delhi dasher’s fate would also depend on how the other openers fare. Murali Vijay has consolidated his position with a big hundred in the Hyderabad Test; the Chennai right-hander is now a certainty for the tour of South Africans.

A lot would also hinge on how the young batsmen, Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane, fare at the top of the order. The possibility of Gambhir — who struck a strokeful century in a tour game against Australia in Chennai after he was dropped from the Indian squad — returning cannot be ruled out either.

Yet, the decision to drop Sehwag would not have been an open-and-shut one. For, he is a game-changer who can turn the course of a match in a matter of a few overs.

Sehwag powering India to great starts not only sends the rate of scoring soaring but also changes the mindset of the bowlers, from a wicket-taking one to being defensive. All off a sudden, the arena appears to be full of gaps as the right-hander’s marauding blade gets into the act and avenues are opened for his partner as well. In other words, Sehwag makes things easier for his partner by demoralising the attack; the men in catching positions disappear too.

Sehwag’s dominance over the bowling acts as a huge psychological boost to his team-mates in the dressing room. The aggressive right-hander’s influence, thus, extends far beyond the crease.

The dimensions he added to the Indian line-up after his comeback in Australia in 2008 lifted the side. The match-winning unbeaten 201 against Sri Lanka in Galle has to be among the greatest innings by an Indian on a turning track. While Sehwag dismissed the new ball ruthlessly, he was also punishing against spin.

However, the last two years have not been productive for Sehwag outside the sub-continent. He made just 144 runs in three Tests in South Africa (2010-11) at 24.00. Sehwag then tallied a meagre 41 in two Tests in England (2011) at 10.25. His returns in Australia too last season — 198 runs in four Tests at 24.75 — were ordinary.

The selectors must have reasoned that an ageing Sehwag was unlikely to succeed in South Africa. Their move has been a brave one, but not without logic.

Can Sehwag fight his way back to the Indian Test team? Truth to tell, you can never count him out. He does have the X-factor about him.