New Delhi: And so it has happened, and few should be surprised. After struggling with the bat for over two years, during which he averaged 29.73 with just one century, Virender Sehwag has been dropped from India's Test team. The axe has fallen, potentially ending the career of a batsman who played a big role in revolutionizing the opener's role in Test cricket, and who influenced India's rise to No. 1 in the ICC Test rankings with some unforgettable batting performances.
First, the numbers which forced this decision: Sehwag averages 18.11 since his 117 against England in November, incidentally his first Test century in two years. In 21 innings since the tour of Australia, in which he totaled 198 runs in eight innings, Sehwag managed just two half-centuries apart from the century in Ahmedabad. In the last five years, the best he has come up with outside of Asia is 67, and he averages a paltry 22.73 away from friendly conditions. In the ongoing series against Australia, Sehwag scored 27 runs in three innings; bowled, caught at slip and by the wicketkeeper.
A player with those numbers in any other country would not have got the rope Sehwag has received. Had he been English or South African, Sehwag would have long been released from the team. Had he been Australian, he would probably have not even been playing domestic cricket. The Indian way has been lenient with Sehwag. His record and reputation have been respected, so we would like to believe. Either that or no one has been able to take the call until now. All it needed was a nudge; it has now become a shove.
The axe has finally fallen, and Sehwag must now relocate the drive that made him a destroyer of attacks, with the South Africa tour in his sights.
Should we be nostalgic, disappointed, and sad even? Yes, of course. Who can deny not being thrilled by Sehwag's deeds at the top of India's order? Who has not been blown away by his audacity and ferocity? Reel back the gems: an audacious 195 on the opening day of the Boxing Day Test in 2003-04, which many critics rate as one of the best innings by an opener in Australia; the first triple-century by an Indian; a supremely-crafted 151 in Adelaide to save a Test; the fastest triple-century in Tests; an unbeaten 201 out of a total of 329 in Galle; an unforgettable cameo to set India on their way to overhauling a target of 387 against England; that 293 against Sri Lanka, a brutal assault that broke several records - the most double-centuries by an Indian, the second-highest number of 250-plus scores, the most runs by an Indian in a day - and gave India the impetus to become the No 1 Test team; a 174-ball 165 against South Africa at Eden Gardens in a match India needed to win to level the series and stay No 1.
These are definitive innings of the past decade, and innings which enhanced India's reputation. Before Sehwag, Indian cricket had long been searching for an opener of the class of Sunil Gavaskar (the list of makeshift and experimental openers during the nineties is too long). Where would Indian cricket be without Sehwag? Would they have reached No 1? Where would the public's interest have been without him? It is worth thinking.
That, however, is the past. Today, the selectors have taken a performance-based decision. The Sehwag of 2013 was dead weight, a liability with the bat and in the field. India's next official Test assignment is a full tour to South Africa in November, where Sehwag averages 25.46. Then comes a tour to New Zealand, where his average drops to 20.00, followed by a visit to England where the average is 27.80.
The selectors are not spoiled for choice. Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane are both uncapped at the Test level, Murali Vijay is just returning to the team, Gautam Gambhir remains discarded, and Wasim Jaffer is coming off another mammoth domestic season but he is 35. With the BCCI looking at youth, it is tough to see Sehwag make a return to the side for South Africa. The first-class season does not start until November, with the Irani Trophy acting as the curtain raiser just before that. Sehwag is not part of India's ODI team, so the only chance he has to impress is in the IPL which starts April 3. After that comes the ICC Champions Trophy in England, so potentially a rollicking IPL 6 could put Sehwag into the fray for ODI selection.
To make a return to Tests, Sehwag just go back to domestic cricket, relocate that drive and that focus, and lose ten kilos. He sleepwalked in Australia, never looked ready to accept his faults and correct his batting. It's my way or bust, he seemed to be seeing. Now he has indeed gone bust.