'Bangladesh are an ordinary side' - Sehwag
"Bangladesh are an ordinary side. They can't beat India because they can't take 20 wickets." That was Virender Sehwag's pre-series shooter on Bangladesh on the eve of the first Test in Chittagong.
You can never accuse Sehwag of being boring. His press conferences are as interesting as his batting. He sauntered in to the press room today, remained typically blunt throughout, dealt in monosyllables and left people speechless. The Indian journalists weren't so shocked because it was almost the norm with him; a few Bangladeshi journalists looked stunned.
You could have said Sehwag was bordering on arrogance, you might have felt he was being dismissive, almost brutal especially in his assessment of Bangladesh' strengths and if you hadn't been in a Sehwag conference before, you certainly would have thought it was a slightly bizarre event. But it wasn't. It was in character. It was actually very funny but you could also see why some might take offense.
Bangladesh's response later on, in the form of Jamie Siddons and Shakib Al Hasan, was equally interesting. They weren't present at Sehwag's conference, of course, and reacted to the perceptions of the media who had listened to Sehwag.
A journalist asked the obvious question - can Bangladesh surprise India? "No. They can't beat us in Test matches," Sehwag said. "They can surprise you in ODIs but not in Tests."
Why? "Because they can't take 20 Indian wickets. Even Sri Lanka found it difficult. Bangladesh can't. They are an ordinary side."
There was not even an attempt at civility. There were no standard responses like "they are an upcoming side", "you can't take anyone lightly", or "they have some talented players." Nothing. He just saw the ball and hit it.
It's not as if Sehwag was even trying to be provocative. There certainly was no condescension, nor was it an act of trying to win any psychological points. It's how he has usually been addressing press conferences for some time now. And it certainly wasn't directed, at least solely, against Bangladesh.
"Where is Dhoni?" "He is taking a break". "Is he fine?" (The questioner wanted to know why he didn't come for the press conference). "He is enjoying himself. He is relaxing in the dressing room."
"What's your thought on the pitch?" "I haven't seen it."
Cue an awkward silence. It was a permanent feature of the conference. At one point, early on during one such period, Sehwag leaned forward and said, "thank you." Some laughed, some remained silent, some looked on quizzically and slowly more questions started to trickle. However, the answers continued to be fired with an impassive face and almost all questions were longer than the replies.
Siddons' and Shakib's conference too was awkward but for different reasons. Shakib didn't want to say anything on Sehwag but he said he doesn't consider India to be a true No. 1 Test side. "They are ranked No.1 recently but I think South Africa and Australia are much better than them," Shakib said. "It's true that they are playing well but they still are human beings and they will make mistakes."
Cries of "shabash, shabash (excellent, excellent)," went up from the back of the press room. It was certainly an interesting conference. It was Siddons' turn next. "Your thoughts on what Sehwag said?"
"He should stay away from mikes," Siddons said. "Every team has good and bad phases. His comments might bite him on his bum in a few years time. It might even hit him in the bum in a week's time. We are definitely not an ordinary side. That's what we are hoping to show in this Test series. We could hopefully prove Sehwag wrong."
Not many are convinced that the quality of the cricket in the series will be of high standard, but as Wally Hammond once so famously said at the start of an Ashes contest, what "a fine bloody way to start a series".
Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo