Rahul & the Sehwag syndrome

WHAT is all this about Virender Sehwag's being the man of the moment as far as India's captaincy goes?

RAJU BHARATAN

Will Rahul Dravid turn out to be as strong a leader as his striking prowess?-S. SUBRAMANIUM

WHAT is all this about Virender Sehwag's being the man of the moment as far as India's captaincy goes? How far does the idea go, seeing that Viren Sehwag is, right now, a better performer in Test cricket than in ODI contests? Is Rahul then to be suddenly jettisoned, as vintage India captaincy material, simply because Dravid's name, by now, is irretrievably linked with Sourav? A link dating back to Sourav's dream 131 in the June 1996 Lord's Test, his 136 & 48 in the July 1996 Trent Bridge Test. A link inevitably tele-set against fresher Rahul's 95 in the ditto Lord's Test, his 84 & 8 in the ditto Trent Bridge Test.

No matter how indelibly Sourav and Rahul are `two-in-one' on the rectangular screen of our imagination, the fact remains that each is his own man, his own mind. In fact, so contrasting in captaincy approach are the two that each must be necessarily viewed as a different entity altogether — while considering any `change of coaches in midstream' that Greg Chappell so obliquely suggested. There is no hard-and-fast rule, of course, that the deputy must take over in the long term, too, if the captain falters and falls by the way. Yet Rahul has won praise from the literati — not least from Peter Roebuck — for the air and flair with which this solo-looking performer conducted the orchestra, each time he took over the baton from Sourav. From Multan to Mumbai, Rahul fashioned path-determining Test victories for India (against first Pakistan, then Australia) in a manner unfolding as quietly authoritative. Flamboyance is not Rahul's signature tune, so no point in underlining that he lacks the brash dash of Sourav. Or of Sehwag. Rahul speaks with the BRITTANIA bat in a style exemplary enough for the team. A team whose confidence Rahul instantly won when Sourav so unbecomingly shied away from the daunting Nagpur Test (against Adam Gilchrist's Australia) on the morning of the match.

Virender Sehwag is doubtless India's leader of the future. But, right now, pray what is Viru Sehwag's international experience of captaining India in either mode of cricket, Test or ODI? Where Rahul has, happily assertively, at last really arrived on the one-day scene too. By sweating it out eye-catchingly — while running strike-rotatingly between wickets — with the youth of Yuvraj Singh and Mohammad Kaif. This in the face of our vice-cap's being rather arbitrarily permuted in the ODI batting order. Following Sourav's bad patch widening into total loss of form. First, let us be clear in our loud thinking about whether we want Sourav still. Remember, as of now, Sourav is set to miss India's first four ODIs during the tri-series in Sri Lanka. Thus becoming available only for the cup final there. So that, if Sourav's four-match suspension holds, obviously Rahul is going to lead India in Sri Lanka.

Any reasoning going beyond this logical format is sheer fanciful thinking as of now. Such thinking Greg Chappell is hardly the one to fancy. Depending upon how Rahul leads in the four one-dayers immediately on the anvil in Sri Lanka, Dravid is clearly the man with the stable seasoning vital for the job. Seasoning under which Viru Sehwag, as Rahul's natural deputy, should be viewed to be cutting his teeth for the onerous business of international leadership in the years to come. Straightaway now to elevate Viru Sehwag to international captaincy — blithely assuming that he would be bringing his batting bravura to the forbidding task of leading India too — is to indulge in the kind of phantasmagoria typical of us Indians.

Rahul by now has delivered almost at any ODI number, according to India's specifications of the moment. Rahul (now in the middle) is no longer merely broadsheet-anchoring India's ODI innings. Rahul today gives the India ODI innings positive shape and substance even when the Big Guys are gone. I just do not accept the submission that Rahul is a misfit, any longer, in India's ODI order. Rahul, in fact, no longer needs the cushioning of 'keeping to ensure his niche in India's ODI eleven. It has taken Rahul a while to strike this neat ODI balance. A balance by which Rahul is able to go for the big shots, too, in the slog hour that matters. In the longfield now, Rahul is far from being the dimension of embarrassment that Sourav, even Laxman, could be.

Virender Sehwag is definitely the leader of the future.-V. GANESH

In the grand sum, Rahul has worked visibly at improving and sustaining his one-day fitness in terms of stamina. There is no call at all, therefore, for Rahul to be overlooked as our ODI captain, Sehwag or no Sehwag. It is specious reasoning by which Rahul is viewed as still standing `behind the sticks' in the matter of assessing his current one-day value base for India. So long as the Sourav captaincy issue remains Dalmiya open, it goes without saying that Rahul leads where Sehwag follows.

By the same pragmatic token, Rahul's first four matches, as India's obvious skipper in Sri Lanka, are going to be crucial for the man. Crucial in the matter of warding off the media threat to his captaincy posed by Sehwag. Viru, at the moment, needs to be saved from those unwittingly venturing to put avoidable additional pressure on him, when he is the one India batsman performing with such splendid consistency. Surely Viru Sehwag's captaincy turn must come. But not by jumping fences. Let Viru Sehwag, first, act as Rahul's deputy — through a full one-day series — in Sri Lanka. Before any thought of pitchforking him into the captaincy cockpit. That way `Bangalore' would be under ceaseless captaincy pressure to deliver, knowing `Najafgarh' to be breathing down the throat! Point — no way could you take the job away from Rahul when his one-day skills have so viewably improved.

Those who are advocating a quantum leap to Virender Sehwag, as spot India captain, are talking through their helmet. There is no substitute for seasoning in the international arena. Greg Chappell, while absorbing all talk in the air, knows the ground reality better than most. The ground reality is that India could ill afford to remain seventh in the ICC pecking order even as the World Cup beckons. Any experimentation, from this pincerpoint, has to be under a leader of settled mettle. Rahul it thus is, now that it evidently cannot be Sourav for Sri Lanka. It is superficial viewing to suggest that Rahul is too soft for the job. Each time Rahul led India, he brought a rare mental toughness to the task. Without turning the game into a slanging match.

In this sense, Meritocrat Rahul is the Steve Waugh mould of leader — all steel inside, only a selective show of emotion out in the open. It is now even more a game played in the mind (with all those rule changes), so that Rahul Dravid it has to be for Sri Lanka, as a leader with a leavening of experience. This is one area in which even Viru Sehwag has to play the waiting game — for now.