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Sehwag is potential match-winner
by Partab Ramchand
Dec 16, 2007
Given the unusual circumstances it was a major selection surprise. But somehow Virender Sehwag being in the starting line up for the tour of Australia does not sound that strange. In fact there are many who thought he should have been in the squad in the first place instead of being smuggled through at the last moment.

Well, for starters Sehwag was not even among the 24 probables and it is not every time that the selectors care to look beyond that list. Then it was only an injury to Gautam Gambhir that brought him into the reckoning for it was largely perceived that the Delhi left-hander would be the third opening batsman to be part of the squad notwithstanding his double failure in the final Test at Bangalore. So it is very much through the backdoor that Sehwag has found a seat on the flight to Australia. Well, such selections can have the stuff of which dream comebacks are made of. After all now that he is a member of the squad I suppose he and Wasim Jaffer should be the first choice openers the good work done by Dinesh Kartik over the last year notwithstanding. Certainly Kartik’s record going in first is nowhere as impressive as Sehwag’s and the Nawab of Najafgarh has his own inimitable swashbuckling style that can lay waste to any bowling line up, the Australians included. He did it in glorious fashion on the last tour and his splendid form four years ago could inspire him to return to his buccaneering deeds.

Sehwag on song is the bowler’s bugbear and as Ian Chappell has noted the Aussies still fear him from the last tour. He reckoned that this was not the right time to give up on the potentially match winning batsman and must be hugely pleased now to know that he is after all a member of the touring squad.

Yes, it’s true that Sehwag has been through lean times, enough for his career average to fall from 55 to a shade below 50. This is because of two contests in which the runs simply dried up – against England at home in 2005-06 and in South Africa a year later. In between however he did have a lucrative series in the West Indies hitting 357 runs in the four Tests including a majestic 180 at St Lucia during which he raced to 99 before lunch on the opening day. He is the kind of cricketer you do take a gamble on for he can get you a quick hundred – even a big one as he has done quite often – and give the bowlers plenty of time to take 20 wickets and win the match.

Indian selectors over the years have however played it safe and would rather persist with Rahul Dravid who it must not be forgotten has now had three sub par series for him against South Africa, England and now Pakistan with only a century against Bangladesh to show on the plus side for what it is worth. In fact his average too has fallen from an all time high of 58.7 to a shade below 56. But then can there be any talk of dropping Dravid whereas when Sehwag was axed there were many who said he had it coming. His style of batting was such that there was much talk that he should be a bit more disciplined. During his period in the wilderness he did talk of making some adjustments and being a bit more circumspect and playing with controlled aggression. It remains to be seen whether he does but there is little doubt that the batting does wear a more exciting and positive look with Sehwag around.

But for Sehwag’s recall and a surprise call up in Pankaj Singh the tall Rajasthan medium pacer there are no surprises in the touring squad. It was always on the cards that the attack would consist of five pacers and two spinners given that the playing eleven will consist of three fast bowlers and only one spinner. And with Anil Kumble bound to play where does that leave Harbhajan Singh one wonders. Unless of course the conditions favour the playing of two spin bowlers which could be the case with the first two Tests in Melbourne and Sydney. The frontline trio in the pace bowling line up are obviously Zaheer Khan, RP Singh and Irfan Pathan – even if all are left-armers – but Ishant Sharma could turn out to be a surprise packet especially at the WACA in Perth given his height and the bounce he is likely to get on that responsive surface.

However as it was four years ago the batting is the team’s main strength. The most lustrous line up in the world – when a prodigious talent like Yuvraj Singh is not sure of his place in the playing eleven it has to be called only that – has to put up the runs like they did last time and score at a fast clip to give the bowlers enough time to bowl the Aussies out. They did it in 2003-04 and that’s one reason why Sourav Ganguly’s squad could notch up the best performance of any Indian team `Down Under’. Can Kumble’s men emulate them or even go one better by being the first Indian team to win a Test series in Australia?

 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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