A bit of focus could have made Virender Sehwag an ODI great
Players are often selected on potential, not for what they might bring to a team immediately, but the difference they could make in a couple of years. In Virender Sehwag's case, the reverse logic was applied.
He wasn't dropped for his current lack of form alone (although an average of 23 from his last ten matches isn't inspiring) but because selectors see no potential for the 2015 World Cup. By then, Sehwag will be 36; his fitness, a handicap already, is not likely to improve.
If this is the end of the road for the man with the highest individual score in a one-day international, it wouldn't be surprising. But it would be sad. For despite his 8000-plus runs and top score of 219, Sehwag gave the impression of someone who did not live up to his full potential in a one-day game. He brought the technique of the shorter game into Tests and enriched the longer format, but somehow didn't explore the possibilities of the shorter game. That might sound unfair, greedy even, but it is in fact a tribute to the creativity of the man who didn't just alter the approach to opening the batting, but forced the bowling to adapt too.
It is in keeping with the contrary nature of his cricket that the most destructive batsman of his generation was a greater Test player than a one-day soloist. This, despite the fact that he is one of only two batsmen - Shahid Afridi being the other - with a strike rate above 100 among those with over 5000 runs. Yet it is his strike rate of over 82 in Tests that is somehow more stunning (Chris Gayle, to put it into perspective has a strike rate of 59).
Although the great Rahul Dravid occasionally fantasised about batting like Sehwag, the latter did not return the compliment. Sehwag knew one way to bat - and he wasn't going to complicate his life by trying to bat like anyone else. In an earlier generation, Sunil Gavaskar once expressed a desire to get to a fifty quicker than his opening partner Kris Srikkanth, and finally did so in a match in Guwahati. Sehwag, if he knew the story, might have merely wondered what the fuss was all about.
So why was the Sehwag of one-day cricket so different? Perhaps he wasn't, and it was just the fielding rules, the bowlers' overs-limitation, and the increased activity among his partners that made it seem that way. Sehwag continued to be himself, but things around him were different.
Yet it was not unusual for Sehwag to get his eye in with the kind of shots that an average batsman never produces in a lifetime. The much-commented upon lack of footwork was never a handicap since he relied on a combination of timing and hitting through the line of the ball. He began as a clone of Sachin Tendulkar and finished as an original Sehwag, with no imitators and few with his disdain for landmarks and records. Perhaps had he given greater thought to his one-day game, he might have made more runs; but then he would not have been Sehwag.
In fairly quick succession, India have lost their two finest one-day players (although Sehwag might still make a surprising comeback), after Tendulkar announced his retirement from the format recently. The sight of these two opening the batting for India was one for the gods. That, for a long while, both could be called upon to bowl meant that India fielded a better balanced side.
In one of his more mischievous moods, Bishan Bedi once said that Sehwag was the best offspinner in the country. When the bowling was no longer used and the fielding began to fall apart, Sehwag became a single-skill player, and that is anathema to the shorter formats.
Perhaps Sehwag could have been shown the same courtesy that was extended to Tendulkar and given the opportunity to announce his retirement from the one-day game.
More about Suresh MenonSuresh Menon is Editor, Wisden India Almanack, and author, most recently, of Bishan: Portrait of a Cricketer.
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