The absence of Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh is
going to have a major impact on the Indian team in England.
The reactions to their omissions have been mixed but let it be said
straightaway that the absence of Virender Sehwag and Harbhajan Singh is
going to have a major impact on the Indian team in England. How much
remains to be seen but the fact is that the two have been among the
leading run getters and leading wicket takers over the last half a
dozen years. Indeed they made their sensational impact within a few
months of each other, Harbhajan taking 32 wickets in three Tests
against Australia in early 2001 and Sehwag getting his famous 70-ball
100 against New Zealand in an ODI in Colombo within a few months.
Since then the one with the buccaneering bat and the other with the
deceptive doosra have been an integral part of the Indian team in both
forms of the game. Really, it must have tested Dilip Vengsarkar and
company no end to drop both the players for the tour of UK and in
both forms of the game. But they have taken the step call it bold,
exceptional, a touch of bravado and now it remains to be seen if the
repercussions are felt.
Over the last half a dozen years the two have been an integral part of
the Indian team. Starting out in the middle order, Sehwag was pushed to
the top slot incidentally in England in 2002 and thereafter has
wielded his punitive blade to devastating effect.
For someone as
artistically and destructively gifted as Sehwag the coaching manual
remained just a book full of theory and nothing else. He authored his
own book on the field of play. Sehwag was a throwback to the
pyrotechnic days of Mushtaq Ali and Kris Srikkanth. The same adjectives
that were used to describe the swashbuckling exploits of these two
cricketers dazzler, conjurer, crickets Errol Flynn, crickets
Indiana Jones was applied to Sehwag. But there was one very important
difference the figures associated with this kind of rip-roaring
batting approach. Mushtaq Ali averaged 32 from eleven Tests. Srikkanth
averaged a trifle under 30 in 43 Tests. The statistics were not
unusual. There is always an element of risk in the devil may care
approach. The stays at the crease are explosive, electrifying,
enthralling - and short. Both Mushtaq and Srikkanth had just two
centuries. But here we had Sehwag who at his peak averaged nearly 56
with 12 hundreds including two double centuries and a triple hundred.
You dont associate such figures with a cavalier stand and deliver
batsman. But that was Sehwag a law unto himself. Of course his game
was tailor made for limited overs cricket but the astonishing aspect
was that he applied the same tactics in Test cricket and they came off.
And then it started happening as it sometimes happens to the best of
cricketers. The runs dried up, nothing went right, the bowlers seemed
to have sorted him out and Sehwag, as instinctive a cricketer as they
come, had no Plan B in place. The career average slid to 49, his place
was in danger but with his exalted status in Indian cricket that almost
rivaled that of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid the selectors - with
the backing of the captain gave him a long rope. Finally however
their patience ran out. Sehwag was dropped from the Test team and then
the ODI squad.
So it is time for a period in the wilderness for Sehwag. And as he
prepares for a comeback will there be a change in Sehwags approach?
Will he like Tendulkar eschew risks and certain strokes and try and be
more circumspect, more solid? Will he, now chastened after being
dropped, alter his style to a comparatively more sober one? That will
not be his natural game for Sehwag is a born stroke player, a born
entertainer. Why, as recently as last year he came tantalizingly close
to getting a century before lunch in a Test against the West Indies
he was 99 to be precise. Indications are that there will be not be any
change in Sehwags style in the near future and if and when he comes
back it will be the same dashing Sehwag that one has appreciated over
the last half a dozen years.
As regards the axing of Harbhajan the most significant aspect is the
break up hopefully temporary of the most successful spin
combination since the famous spin quartet broke up in 1979. Together
Harbhajan and Anil Kumble has been a destructive combo over the last
half a dozen years. Moreover they have loved to bowl in tandem as they
have repeatedly said. This is borne out by figures too for on the
occasions when one has to bowl without the other the performance has
Frankly Harbhajan has been a bit unlucky to miss out on the
tour. I will be the first to agree with the view that his wicket taking
ability has taken a dent in the shorter version of the game and he
seems to be concentrating more on restricting whereas he should be
Indias match winner now that Kumble has retired. But in Tests he is
still too good a bowler to be left out. Why, only in his last two Tests
in the West Indies he notched up successive five-wicket hauls the
second (five for 13 off just 4.3 overs) being instrumental in India
notching up the only victory of the four-match series. Again five years
ago in England he headed the Test averages with 12 wickets at 34 apiece
from three Tests playing a notable part in Indias only victory in the
Its a little hard on the doughty sardar to be dropped after
all this but again in his case he is too clever a bowler to be out of
the line up for long. One can already see him taking the first steps
towards the comeback trail.
Certainly Indian cricket can only benefit
from the return to form of both stalwarts.