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Sehwag needs a break
by Partab Ramchand
May 16, 2007
What is wrong with Virender Sehwag? Why is he letting the team down with a series of irresponsible strokes, low scores and tame dismissals? Why is he not living up to the expectations of his captain who has backed him to the hilt? Surely a batsman like him who has had bowlers pleading with captains to take them off so that they could escape punishment from his punitive blade is capable of more dynamic contributions to the team’s cause in both forms of the game.

Something is seriously wrong when a swashbuckling opening batsman who has got a triple hundred and two double hundreds in Tests and over 5,000 runs at a strike rate of almost 97 in ODIs gets out to rash strokes in the 20s and 30s. It is a cause for alarm when his Test average slides from 56 to 49. He has already been excluded from the Test squad. Has the time come for him to be axed from the ODI team? It does seem unthinkable for his game is naturally suited to limited overs cricket and he has won innumerable matches for India with his buccaneering blade. So what’s happened to Sehwag the match winner?

It is well known that coach Greg Chappell wanted Sehwag axed from the World Cup squad. It was only on Rahul Dravid’s insistence that he made the trip to the Caribbean. On that occasion the captain replied to critics of Sehwag memorably by the following quote: ``My supporting Sehwag it’s not like I am supporting Joe Bloggs, some Ramdin or Ramakdin or something. He is a kid who has done things in international cricket. People also just need to hang back and let him play his cricket.’’ Two months later however Dravid’s patience with Sehwag is obviously wearing thin. In Dhaka the other day he said ``For someone of Sehwag's calibre, we truly believe that he should go all the way and play bigger innings,’’ admitting that his string for failures were a cause for concern.

As the ODI series ended prematurely with the third match being washed out calls for the ouster of the daredevil batsman grew more vehement. Chairman of selectors Dilip Vengsarkar and former Indian captain Sunil Gavaskar were among those who expressed dissatisfaction at his batting approach.

Vengsarkar urged Sehwag to curb his attacking instincts and focus on consistency. "He can't seem to control his exuberance. If he hits four fours in an over, he wants to hit a fifth one," Vengsarkar said. ``As one of the seniors in the team, he should be able to play longer innings. I am disappointed with his performance. He has so much talent but he is wasting it.’’ Two low scores compiled in foolhardy fashion in the two ODIs obviously drove Vengsarkar to exasperation.

Sehwag hit 30 off 21 balls in the first match when he holed out against seamer Syed Rasel after smashing four boundaries earlier in the same over. Two days later he made 21 off 26 balls before mistiming a skier off Rasel two deliveries after lofting the same bowler for a six.

Gavaskar, never one to mince words when a batsman gifts away his wicket said Sehwag was unlikely to win the selectors' favour in future if he continued to play rashly. ``How much sympathy he will retain after this performance remains to be seen but the way he is getting out indicates that he is looking to commit cricketing suicide," said Gavaskar. ``Unless he learns to temper his game, he will find himself in cricketing wilderness. If he is not willing to show some patience, then the skipper and the selectors will also lose patience with him."

On statistical evidence there is no doubt that Sehwag should be shown the door. In his last 18 innings he has managed just 440 runs at an average of 24.44 and this includes 114 against minnows Bermuda in the World Cup. Any other player would have lost his place in the side long before this but Sehwag by his exploits in the last few years has achieved an exalted status in Indian cricket that virtually rivals that of Sachin Tendulkar and Rahul Dravid. Also the nature of his explosive batting means that there is always the hope that he would produce the kind of match winning knocks that he has done so often in the past. ``The match winning innings is just round the corner’’ is the refrain of his supporters. But it has been so long now since Sehwag has produced any such knock that even their patience is fast running out.

There is a thin line between confidence and over confidence. Perhaps the time has come for Sehwag to do some serious introspection. His thought process has already undergone a change. A few months ago explaining his devil may care approach he said `` If you start hitting the ball the bowler will also be a little scared. You put pressure on him so he will give one or two balls to hit to the boundary.’’ By the time of the World Cup he was saying ``I have changed a little bit in my shot selection. It’s important you are careful with your shots especially when you are not getting runs. I will restrict one or two of my shots, spend some time at the wicket and then play them.’’ Obviously saying is one thing and putting things into action quite another. It is time Sehwag took a break from the game. Surely it will only be temporary for at 28 he still has a lot to contribute to Indian cricket. But keeping larger interests in mind perhaps the time has come for the Indian team to manage without Sehwag – at least for some time – and hope that he comes back refreshed and hungry for more conquests.

More Views by Partab Ramchand
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