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Magnetic power more than form gets Sehwag in team for Australia

By Veturi Srivatsa, IANS

There is some inexplicable magnetic power in Virender Sehwag that seems to attract successive India captains to strongly plead for his inclusion in the India team.

First, Sourav Ganguly not only fought for him to be included in the squad as a middle-order batsman but also created a place for him in the eleven by forcing him to open the innings on the 2002 England by dropping the regular opener Shiv Sundar Das. Sehwag justified his captain’s confidence in him and poor Das’ international career ended then and there.

For the next four years or so, Sehwag never looked back, running up a string of big scores, 309 against Pakistan at Multan being the highest by an Indian in Tests.

Then there was a sudden slump or, perhaps, the bowlers sorted him out. His position in the team had become untenable. No Indian cricketer got as many opportunities as he got to regain form. Very few thought he would and should go to the World Cup in the Caribbean, but chief selector Dilip Vengsarkar said he had to give in to skipper Rahul Dravid who insisted on the Delhi dasher being in the side. This time Sehwag let his captain down.

It is not clear whether Mahendra Singh Dhoni wanted or the selectors were so enamoured of him, Sehwag went to the Twenty20 world championship and played one good knock but the team’s triumph deflected criticism from him. Then the selectors had the selection of the team for the one-dayers against Pakistan the day before the final and after the last round-robin match. That helped him to get his place back in the team but no material change in his form. He had not even opened the innings and topped the 40-run-mark once in three outings.

Sehwag went back to domestic cricket and did nothing. He was not among the 24 probables for the squad Down Under, but he got a strong recommendation from former Australia captain Ian Chappell who felt the bouncy pitches would be to his liking. Now Anil Kumble apparently wanted him in the squad.

The irony of it all is that Sehwag’s sixth sense told him that he would on the flight to Australia! And out of the blue, there is this news about Gautam Gambhir’s shoulder and after asking him to throw a few balls from the deep, it is said that his throwing arm needs rest.

Good luck to Sehwag and for all one knows he might prove everyone wrong by his blazing strokeplay, his horizontal shots clearing the faraway fences of the Australian grounds.

However, what his inclusion did is to complicate the selection of the eleven. Wonder whether the wise men and their advisers ever thought about the headache his presence could create for the captain and the team management.

First and foremost, how will Sehwag fit in to the eleven when permutations and combinations are being worked out to somehow pitchfork Yuvraj Singh? Before Sehwag came into calculations, Dinesh Karthik was to make way to persuade Dravid to open.

Come to think of it, Sehwag will have to be played in the only warm-up match, against Victoria in Melbourne, to test his form, and what if he fails in that game.

If Sehwag has to be included in the Test eleven, then who will go out? One only hopes as a defensive measure they don’t decide to make do with his offspin and drop Harbhajan who has been under a scanner for his poor strike rate. The mindset of most Indian captains, even those who now rubbish the decisions of Dravid, for not enforcing the follow-on in England, and Kumble, for delaying declaration against Pakistan, has never been proactive.

Strangely, the selectors want to see Munaf Patel play more matches in domestic cricket before flying him out as the 17th man, but Sehwag has no such compulsion. He walks into the side as if it’s his right. What a travesty of justice, batsmen who have won crucial matches for India are perennially on trial even after 5,000 runs in Tests and here is a player who is being given a chance again and again.

Maybe, the thinking among decision makers is that Viru, like Sourav, would find his touch at the international level. The only difference is that Sourav got into the team when India were performing awfully in South Africa while Viru has bulldozed his way into the side courtesy his senior colleagues, not on current form. In five Ranji Trophy innings this season, he crossed the 30-run-mark only once.

As for other selections, It is good that they have gambled with two rookie pace men Ishant Sharma and Pankaj Singh. At times, raw pace and the exuberance of youth might just work for India. If either of them gets a chance to play he should be told to go flat out. Just as Sehwag hopes to regain his controlled aggression, Pathan can also be optimistic to his rhythm on helpful tracks.

The only fault line is that there is no back-up spinner when three of the Test venues — Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide — are expected to help Indian spinners. Have the selectors missed a trick here by not considering Murali Karthik? We will have to wait and watch.

(Veturi Srivatsa is a senior sports journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected])