Sehwag axing: middle order not an option
The axe has been wielded, and with some regularity. Thrice, in the span of three Test matches, the selection committee headed by Sandeep Patil has made its intent clear. And it is a pleasant sign that someone is in sync with the needs of the team.
Zaheer Khan, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh were laid off after India lost the Kolkata Test, Virender Sehwag was culled from the ODI list against England and then Gautam Gambhir found himself in the cold after the last Test selection. The cycle completes for this home season, with Sehwag ousted this time around.
The problem with Indian cricket is that there is too much emotion attached to it. The biggest example today is of Harbhajan Singh, making a second comeback to the Test side within one season, which is perhaps a record of sorts. Did he deserve a spot in the squad to face Australia? No, his decade-old performance of 2001 got him in, because someone in the corridors of power thought that is the best way to beat the visitors. Did he merit selection ahead of Pragyan Ojha in the first two Tests? No, but six lefties in the Aussie batting line-up meant you had to play him, never mind the small fact that he has taken a paltry five wickets.
But this is not about the 'erstwhile' Turbanator. This is about how sentiments are being attached to yet another player of his era, one who is now out of national reckoning in all formats of the game, and for good reason. Runs simply haven't come off Sehwag's blade and patience in his mercurial play has run out.
Yet the chatter surrounding his departure from the current scheme of things isn't regarding a comeback on the back of scoring more runs than ever before. There isn't a mention of how getting his limited-overs spot back is his best shot to get back in Tests, for T20s and ODIs are his only respite (India don't play another Test series until South Africa in November). There is no talk that IPL 2013 could prove to be a godsend opportunity for him to make a case for inclusion in the squad for Champions Trophy in June.
Instead, all everyone seems to be talking up is somehow fitting Sehwag in the middle order for the all-important trip to South Africa, and beyond, refitting the Indian Test batting line-up. Let one just throw a big bucket of cold water over that.
There are a variety of reasons that a batsman like Sehwag doesn't fit in a middle-order. First and foremost, you have to begin with his game-play. He isn't a form player, he has never been one. The normal rules of run-scoring do not apply to him. His much-celebrated hand-eye co-ordination towers over any book that teaches you proper cricketing nuance. This is why he was so successful as an opener for so long.
And this is also why he must not bat in the middle order in South Africa, or any of the away tours that follow. When India is lingering at 40 for 3, does the Indian team management really want a batsman at the crease who will find it hard to curb his natural attacking instincts? When the score-card reads 60 for 4, do the fans really want to see a batsman who will flash at anything a touch outside the off-stump?
There is this small possibility of a strong rear-guard action from an ageing Sehwag, but it is a remote one. His reflexes are slowing down, as can be seen from the many dropped catches in his last few Tests. His cover drive is no more in-line with in-swinging deliveries, the outside edge getting beaten as his feet remain rooted. Will the likes of Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Mornie Morkel, on a raging Durban pitch, be tamed by him? Try answering that question, in all honesty.
The basic argument in his favour is deep-rooted in sentiment. A long time ago, Sehwag made a sacrifice and moved to open the innings for India. It might seem selfless, but it isn't. He wanted to play and experimented, backed by a skipper who was willing to ascertain his ideas, primarily because in those times, the Indian batting was propped by the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman, and Sourav Ganguly himself. But the times have changed drastically.
Since 2008, the spot left vacant by Ganguly hasn't found a viable suitor. And with Indian cricket in deep-rooted transition, putting Sehwag in that spot (or number five) and short-changing youngsters once again isn't an option. What excuse will be given to Ajinkya Rahane and Manoj Tiwary this time around, if Sehwag plays ahead of them? How long must they wait for that one chance to come about?
Furthermore, despite their success, even the likes of Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli are on a learning curve. There is no definitive number six batsman and India's five-bowler theory is one of horses-for-courses in home conditions. How do you prop up a volatile batsman, in alien conditions unsuitable for his batting style, in this background?
After a long time, there is a selection committee in place that is willing to give chances to young names to stake a claim. That process must not be harmed in the guise of extracting a last ounce of cricket from Sehwag.
He has been a great servant for this nation's cricket, yet it is time to cut the cord, unless he can stake claim to the opener's slot again. That is his only spot in any Indian eleven, now and forever.