Power-hitter v powers that be

The Sehwag dossier doesn't appeal to the selectors any more.-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

The transition phase is painful for any team, but the Indians have not appeared prepared for the change! How can one sacrifice a player with such a record as Virender Sehwag to accommodate some non-performers, wonders Vijay Lokapally.

“I wish I could bat like him.” Most batsmen, in private, would entertain this thought, this craving to dominate like Virender Sehwag, to adopt his style, his range of shots, his attitude; well, they would also aspire to inculcate almost every little aspect of his cricket and personality. To be a Sehwag would mean being different, being entertaining, being a winner. That is what Sehwag has been all through his cricket career, a winner, a trusted game-changer.

But this game-changer has become the first victim of the so-called transition period with the National selectors looking to revamp the team. Revamp the team by omitting a batsman who is known to bat for the team and not himself, to bat to win and not just bat to keep his own place, to deliver and not deny when the occasion demands a surge in momentum.

Sehwag, in the collective opinion of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, V. V. S. Laxman and Sourav Ganguly, is a batsman who changed the way they approached the job. He brought dignity to batting with some adventurism to make it an exciting vocation. When he batted, they watched, enjoyed and secretly desired to emulate some of those moments. They did not succeed always because Sehwag was unique.

His batting had an ally in a fearless attitude. “Can any batsman ensure he can remain not out? No. Then why worry about getting out?” His philosophy was simple and effective. However, the selection committee seems to have unearthed fresh talent that, at least they are convinced, can serve the team better than someone like Sehwag.

If performance was the yardstick, there can be little justification in persisting with Rohit Sharma. His talent may appear to be prodigious but it has hardly reflected in his batting. At 25, after 86 ODI matches to his credit, he remains “promising” in the collective wisdom of this selection committee. Compare this with Mohammad Kaif, whose one-day career was halted after 125 matches at the age of 25, the same as Rohit is now!

Sehwag’s aggregate in the last 12 ODI innings is 467 at an average of 38. His 219 against the West Indies in Indore came on December 8, 2011. This happens to be the highest score in ODIs. In less than a year, the selection panel, answerable to just one man in the Board, has picked just one man as the main reason for India’s decline when it was the team as a whole that had failed.

The lone Indian to score two triple centuries in Tests, the lone Indian to find a place in all three formats of the game on sheer merit, and the lone player to be reminded that he does not deserve a place in the team. It’s not that Sehwag has been excluded from the team for the first time. He has past experience of this and also the grace to accept the ruling and fight his way back into the team. He has played on merit and the strength of his batting might.

The talented Rohit has two ODI centuries, back-to-back, against Zimbabwe and Sri Lanka, scored in 2011 but his sequence in 2012 before the Rajkot match against England makes an undignified reading of 21, 10, 33, 15, 0, 4, 68, 5, 0, 0, 4, 4, 4….The selectors, however, think differently.

But Sehwag, 34, too thinks differently. He looks at winning, looks at the positive side of cricket. As for his attitude, the Delhi dressing room would vouch for his commitment and humility even when in the company of the newcomers. Sadly, the Indian dressing room lacks the same camaraderie.

Players like Sehwag happen once in an era. It was his refreshing batting style that gave India the space to excel in Test cricket. His attacking approach gave the bowlers the time to hunt for the opposition, a fact acknowledged by stalwarts like Anil Kumble and Harbhajan Singh. The pressure that Sehwag exerted from one end also allowed his partners to indulge at the other end. Sehwag, in the words of Laxman, is a wonder at the crease, making batting look such an easy proposition.

In their anxiety to create a safe future, the selectors obviously have forgotten a happy present by giving this jolt to Sehwag. By no yardstick can this explosive batsman be considered a liability. Given the state of Indian cricket it would be imperative to retain the services of Sehwag and the sooner the selectors come to accept this reality the better.

Fourteen of his 15 centuries in ODIs have shaped an Indian victory. In all, there have been 42 instances when Sehwag has slammed a fifty or more and the team has won. In Tests, eight of his centuries have come in a winning cause. The selectors did assure him it was not the end of the road in ODIs, but, obviously, Sehwag is not in the scheme of things for the 2015 World Cup. His fitness and form would have to be far superior to those of the youngsters for the selectors to consider his case.

Looking ahead, it would suit Sehwag to concentrate on Tests and provide solidity and experience. With V. V. S. Laxman and Rahul Dravid leaving in succession and Sachin Tendulkar on the verge of calling it a day, Sehwag’s presence would be invaluable for India in Tests until the team management and the selectors identify the replacements. The talent pool, with the exception of Cheteshwar Pujara and the gifted Virat Kohli, presently looks disappointing.

The list of people who have been inconsistent is long and Sehwag is not the only one. The fascinating point about Sehwag is his reputation of being the most dreaded opponent for every bowler. How can one individual be responsible for the non-performance of a team? Sehwag, with 8273 ODI runs, and with an ability to destroy the bowling with his astounding strokeplay, cannot be that person.

What do you say of a batsman who has never believed in playing for personal glory? When he got out at 195 in Melbourne in 2003, trying to hit the ball for a six, I asked him, “How can you play a shot like that when five runs short of a double century?” His response was so typical, “The fault lies with me. The ball had six runs written all over. I did not connect well.” That reply signifies Sehwag and his cricket: pure, pristine, unfussy and, most importantly, entertaining.

How can one sacrifice a player with such a record as Sehwag to accommodate some non-performers! True, the transition phase is painful for any team, but the Indians have not appeared prepared for the change!

India’s bowlers have also looked woefully out of place. The inconsistency that afflicts bowlers like Ishant Sharma, R. Ashwin, Pragyan Ojha and Ravindra Jadeja is one of the key reasons for India faring poorly against strong oppositions. It is time Suresh Raina, not to forget Gautam Gambhir, also stood up and played their roles.