India in Australia 2011-12 January 17, 2012

Déjà vu for Sehwag in Adelaide

When he came here in 2008, Virender Sehwag had to bat out of his comfort zone to save a Test, and his career. Four years later, the situation isn't very different, except that he is also captain of a side in disarray

Certain places, when you go there for a second time, make you look back at what has gone by since the previous time you were there. Sometimes they give you the impression life might have come a full circle. Virender Sehwag has come back to Adelaide. Wonder if he feels his life has come a full circle now. He, though, will want it to be just half the spin.

When Sehwag last came here, he was fighting for his career. The year prior to that, 2007, had been tumultuous. He and India had failed at the World Cup. In a bizarre selection move, he went on to be dropped from the Tests and not ODIs, even though he had been doing well in the longer format. Then, just before Australia, the captain Anil Kumble insisted he wanted Sehwag. By the time India reached Adelaide, Sehwag had played one Test without great results, and was facing what was in essence a last chance. He batted for nearly six hours in the second innings, went a session without a boundary, and helped India draw the Test.

Sehwag's second coming began there. In his next Test innings he scored a triple-century, and in the series after that he single-handedly won India a Test on the horror tour of Sri Lanka. He played the innings of the year in 2009 too, pulverising Sri Lanka for 284 runs in just one day. He reached great heights during that period, and started laying genuine claims to being an all-time great.

Starting 2010 things began to go downhill again for him, but India kept performing well. They drew a series in South Africa, and won the World Cup. After that all the garbage has hit the fan. India have lost seven away Tests in a row, and the golden era of Indian cricket is almost over. Sometime during that period Sehwag delayed a shoulder surgery, played on in the IPL, missed the West Indies tour, and couldn't recover in time for the England trip. That hundred in Adelaide now seems a century ago, and Sehwag's contributions outside the subcontinent have dwindled drastically since then.

From Adelaide to Adelaide he has done nothing outside Asia. He has toured New Zealand, South Africa, England (albeit forced to play through injury during crisis there) and Australia, and doesn't have a single big innings to his name. Every other Indian first-choice top-five batsman has done something over the period. Gautam Gambhir, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar had fruitful tours of New Zealand and South Africa, and Rahul Dravid scored three centuries in England. Sehwag's lack of runs only got amplified when the middle order began to fail too.

It would be unfair to dismiss Sehwag as a subcontinent bully. In the previous cycle, he did well against the moving ball. His first century, on debut, was against a red-hot South African bowling unit in Bloemfontein. Out of his comfort zone, opening the innings, he scored runs in England and Australia. He scored runs on the New Zealand trip in 2002-03 when most batsmen on either side struggled to lay bat on ball.

The thing with Sehwag, though, is that a great innings is never too far, or it at least seems so. The opposition fears that, and his team picks him because of that. Since Adelaide 2008, though, he has just been a great frontrunner on certain kind of tracks, the utility of which can't be written off.

The usual criticism that he gets away too often with a "that's how he plays" shrug doesn't apply now. For, in Australia he has put his head down, and tried to fight through the early movement. It hasn't worked for him, though, and it has resulted in the dismissals he hates the most: the ones that come when he is defending. At least he has tried to change his game when the situation demanded it.

Perhaps you need better footwork when the bowling is accurate and the ball is moving. The ball he got in the first innings at the WACA, for example, was near unplayable, pitching leg, swinging away late, making him play. Then again, the only way to survive those is to either be lucky in missing them or to move well forward in defence.

Perhaps Sehwag could get away with just the hand-eye coordination when he was younger. Perhaps, in hindsight, he should have been used in the middle order in this series. It is a desperate move - to ask Dravid to open again so Sehwag can be utilised better in the middle order where the ball doesn't move that much - but India have been through times so desperate they could justify any desperation. Not that Dravid would have complained, and at any rate he has been an almost default opener. Strangely, though, this team has lacked the desperation - in the mind and on the field.

At this stage of his career, when he will have to be the link between the era almost over and the one that will take over, Sehwag needs more runs outside the subcontinent. That stands between Sehwag and genuine greatness. Runs inside India over the next two years won't help if he is going to struggle over the year after that, which is almost exclusively made up of cricket in testing conditions away from home. Maybe the next two years is a good time for him to drop into the middle order, something he has always wanted to do, and for India to look for another solid opener, although there are no guarantees the said new opener will be successful overseas.

Ironically, when the time is ripe to debate Sehwag's role in the side, he has come to Adelaide as the captain of the team. He will be an important part of the transition over the next two years, the leader of the batting unit when the big three are gone. The series is gone, a long period of recovery beckons, but there will be no complaints if Sehwag starts it in earnest.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Mick on January 21, 2012, 22:50 GMT

    @TheOnlyEmperor: Funny how you would use an article by an Indian writer, about an Indian batsmen, agreed with by most Indian posters to make a comment on Australia. We must be doing something right. Yeah, we got bowled out for 47. At least we made sth Africa bat again. How would you feel if you were the team thrashed by an innings in consecutive tests by the team that couldn't even get to 50. Now that sir, is funny.

  • Dummy4 on January 21, 2012, 16:15 GMT

    Every team which plays India go on dreaming about becoming world no. 1. Their batsmen and bowlers rise up in their respective ICC rankings. Sehwag should restore his footwork. If he is stuck at the crease , then he should follow Warner's stance. He stands one foot ahead out of the crease. That way he cuts the swing angle and rise of the bowl. He should restore his attacking attitude that he can shred any bowling to pieces. Whenever he adopts a defensive attitude he goes out cheaply. He is in the Indian team to see off the seam. He should not forget that. Otherwise he should come at the 5th or 6th spot. He has forgotten his game. He should remember it.

  • Ravi on January 21, 2012, 13:41 GMT

    whole team is going down because of sehwag,pls somebody tell sehwag to stay at the crease for first ten overs than start fire at the aussie.Everyone know what sehwag can do when he gets going he is real hunk of team india.

  • Coolest on January 21, 2012, 8:51 GMT

    @Freewheeler, I am starting to wonder how your test team (Ajinkya Rahane, Abhinav Mukund, Rohit Sharma, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Parthiv Patel (or Dinesh Karthik), Irfan Pathan, Ravindra Jadeja, Ashwin, Umesh Yadav, and Zaheer Khan) would perform in Australia. If we are going to lose like this then might as well play with a young team. Looks like very good team to me, highly balanced, young, and a very strong batting line-up and with all types of variety possible. But you can not leave Tendulkar out. He has been the best Indian batsmen outside the subcontinent. Would love to see Ravindra Jadeja in the test team. He deserves it after bowling very well. he picked a lot more wickets then Ashwin in the ODIs. If Ashwin can play test cricket then why can't Ravindra Jadeja? The way he has been bowling he can come into the test team as an pure bowler like Ashwin, batting is a big bonus. India seriously needs give all-rounders a chance in tests as well. Rahul Sharma is another one.

  • Dhaval on January 20, 2012, 20:47 GMT

    Really felt, the batting order needed to be changed in both (in second innings) at Sydney and both innings in Perth. Also, Rohit Sharma should have played ahead of Kohli. But all that is history now, it will be interesting to see who Indian team plays and what would be batting order this time around. Hope it changes much to the surprise of the bowlers.

  • Anand on January 20, 2012, 18:51 GMT

    NOW THE GAME IS WHO IS BETTER IN DEFEATING INDIA. IS THAT AUSTRALIA OR ENGLAND? T20 and Oneday WHITE WASH on the card.. unless if they drop the 3 senior and change the captain. Anything less will be a disastarous tour. Australia will do better then England finally when we compare this tour with india tour to England.

  • Kannan on January 20, 2012, 6:33 GMT

    It's funny how the Aussies suddenly see themselves as a strong cricketing nation once again after having been bowled out for 47 in SA and after having lost to lowly ranked NZ all in the last 12 months.

  • Aidan on January 20, 2012, 5:35 GMT

    meh a Has been - not the right guy to be a captain either - look else where

  • jiten on January 20, 2012, 0:46 GMT

    they should select pujara and parthiv instead of sehwag and laxman, its selector problem, in australia we need a reliable batsman. not a hitter. hitter works sometimes not all the time, they can make good score but not get any promised from them. try out with youngster, they can field and stay on batting because t6hey want to get the batting slot so they can worked hard. its too late. i hope this message can reach the selrctor and do something for odi.thx

  • shiva on January 19, 2012, 20:42 GMT

    Rohit sharma is i good form abt Pujara?Sehwag should be in the team..

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