x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Quiet exit is no way for Virender Sehwag to leave the India set-up

A century in the opening Test against England in Ahmedabad last November bought Sehwag some time, but his form tailed away.

India's batsman Virender Sehwag.
India's batsman Virender Sehwag.

February 21, the day before the series against Australia began, Virender Sehwag's Twitter account had a picture of him and Gautam Gambhir about to give each other a gloved high-five.

The accompanying tweet said: "I will miss u champ". Gambhir, despite a few promising starts against England, had finally paid the price for two years of underachievement in the Test arena and been dropped from the side.

A two weeks on, Sehwag has joined him on the periphery. India's most successful opening partnership, that produced 4,412 runs at 52.52 in 87 innings, has been consigned to the record books.

Gambhir is still only 31, and will fancy his chances of finding a way back to the XI. Sehwag, who turns 35 in October, will find the road back much more treacherous.

Even if he does return, he is likely to be seen as a middle-order wild card, rather than the opening gambit that destroyed some of the world's best bowlers for more than a decade.

Two triple-centuries, a 254-ball 293 and a strike rate of 82 are fitting accolades for a man whose game, though laced with danger, was also a delightful amalgam of pristine technique and the unorthodox.

A century in the opening Test against England in Ahmedabad last November - his first in two years - bought Sehwag some time, but his form tailed away in that series and he started this one against Australia with 27 runs in three innings.

Although India won both Tests convincingly, the selectors were aware enough to recognise that the opening woes that coincided with the team's descent from No 1 to mid-table were no closer to ending.

Murali Vijay has given himself some breathing space with his century in Hyderabad, and is almost certain to be joined at the top of the order by Shikhar Dhawan, a Delhi teammate of Sehwag and Gambhir who was once pigeonholed as a limited-overs dasher. It is fairly certain that the opening slots will see more churning by the time the team head to South Africa in November.

Tours of New Zealand and England follow that. Conditions in each of those three countries are such that opening batsmen need impeccable techniques to survive and thrive. Whether Vijay and Dhawan can make such a big step up remains to be seen.

At 35, Wasim Jaffer, who scored a century at Newlands in South Africa in 2007, is not considered a contender.

Tamil Nadu's Abhinav Mukund, who opened in two Tests on the tour of England in 2011, remains on the fringes, and the selectors will doubtless take a closer look at Jiwanjot Singh, whose debut season with Punjab fetched him 995 runs and five centuries from 10 games.

A left-field option is Unmukt Chand, who captained India to Under 19 World Cup glory last year. His first-class numbers are not striking, but he has a happy knack of finding his best form on the big occasion.

As for Sehwag, a strong IPL season with the Delhi Daredevils is his best chance of forcing his way back into the selectors' thoughts. Dropped from the side during the World Twenty20 last October and then from the one-day side in January, it is now three strikes and out.

Only time will tell if he has the inclination to test his skills in the English county arena later this summer. Zaheer Khan used a successful stint with Worcestershire to work his way back into the national side in 2006, but he was only 28 then. He also had much to prove.

Sehwag, with 8,586 runs and 23 hundreds, to add to 15 in the one-day arena where he holds the world-record score of 219, has a few months to rediscover his mojo.

There will be many that hope he does. Such a tame exit, for one of the game's great entertainers, would be terribly sad.



Cricket, s12-13