Indian cricket March 7, 2013

Indian selectors get their timing right

India's selectors have given themselves the chance to assess several opening options ahead of the tour of South Africa in December

The Indian selectors' decision to drop Virender Sehwag for the last two Tests against Australia cannot be argued with, if cricketing logic and the weight of lack of runs is applied against sentiment and possibility.

It is in many ways a far simpler decision to take at this stage, with India 2-0 up against an Australian side whose transition roadmap in all departments has disintegrated in the middle of a series. No replacement was announced for Sehwag either, an oddity and a signal in itself. Even in home series, the Indians travel in large squads -15 usually - which has long been treated as a fall out of zonal selection but has become a hard habit to break. Today, it was broken. The signal is that Shikhar Dhawan could get his big break after a first-class season with six centuries and five fifties.

The Sehwag omission is an indication the selectors are treading on the straight and narrow directive of the 'youth policy.' It works particularly well in Indian conditions but to gauge whether it can succeed overseas - well, that's what selectors are paid for. Sandeep Patil's panel should be complimented for doing much of the dirty work sidestepped by the Kris Srikkanth panel that preceded it and lived off the 2011 World Cup victory for one year too long.

After the announcement, Sehwag said he was going to find a way back and that he trusts his game. In the last five years, at his best and even his most mercurial, he produced, by a guesstimate, one in three innings of weight and influence on the state of the game. If he is able to find his way back to that state of mind and batsmanship, India will be pleased. If the new openers are beating him on that ratio, then Sehwag can do nothing but work and wait.

Yet, the opportunities for Sehwag to work his way into runs and Test form are on the slender side. The IPL will take all of April and most of May, by which time the Indian summer will set in, in its energy-sapping force. The only avenue is an unusual one: a four-month window in the monsoon, set up for the first time by the BCCI, for A-teams to tour. This July, a proposed India A tour could act as a recce with beanies and thermals, for the full tour that is to follow in the South African summer.

While nothing is final - all India tours appear to materialise at the last hour after mysterious agreements - the A tour is expected to contain three four-day matches and a bag of T20 and 50-over games. What both Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir do in the interim, post-IPL, will give clues about intention and effort.

There was another option for Sehwag, but no one knows if was discussed: for him to slot into the middle order, where he has always said he really belongs. After all, he made his debut at No. 6 as it happens, in South Africa. It is the position where a specialist batsman, if the rest have gone, must bat with those that follow, maybe face the second new ball, farm the strike and push the innings along.

The idea of Sehwag coming in at 44 for 4, batting alongside Dhoni and the bowlers, is a delicious one. But the No. 6 is more of an aggressive anchor and less of a pinch-hitter, more VVS Laxman than Sehwag, and most certainly not a Sehwag without runs. When Sehwag moved to open for India, he had scored a century and two fifties in his first seven Test innings in the middle order and was averaging more than 50. Not now.

The decision to drop Sehwag makes Dhawan the first in line to open the innings with M Vijay in Mohali. Dhoni has by and large been rather fond of left-right hand combinations, particularly in ODI cricket. Dhawan may turn out to be an extension into Test cricket, particularly against the shaken confidence of the Australian bowling attack.

The only thing that could come between Dhawan and a Test place will be the Rahane Reversal. Ever since he was picked for the 2011-12 tour of Australia, Ajinkya Rahane's fledgling Test cricket career was turned into the Otis Redding song. I'm sittin' on the dock of the bay/ Watching the tide roll away/ I'm just sittin' on the dock of the bay/ Wastin' time. Maybe Rahane's time sittin' around in the Indian dressing room, like Otis said, watching the ships roll in/ And then I watch 'em roll away again, may actually be over.

The performance of the openers in Mohali and Delhi will give the selectors tips on who stands a better chance of making it to the XI in South Africa. By freeing up two openers' slots, the selectors have given themselves a reasonable number to choose from, once the IPL is done with and the injury roster is up. But if anything, Australia's struggles have proved that no matter how well intentioned a youth policy is, replacing skills is tough. If for the short term, it means going back to an older hand for tours of South Africa and then England in 2014, then so be it. The selectors have shown focus; they must also be ready to be flexible.

If there is a blot on today's events it is that, once again, the reasoning and thought process of the selection panel, the rationale behind Sehwag's omission or where he stood in the succession-planning business, was left behind closed doors. It is one thing for the selection committee chairman to have to dodge bullets at one of our rowdy press conferences. It is another to infect silence onto the BCCI's Twitter handle, website and its Facebook page. It can only be hoped that Sehwag, a batsman who is both rare and influential in Indian cricket in the best possible way, had been spoken to by the selectors.

For a board that is extremely 21st century in the protection of its commercial interests, its communication with those that are responsible for the generation of that commerce - the public, the Indian team's fans - belongs to the age when pigeons carried messages and telephones had not been invented.

Sharda Ugra is senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Srinivas on March 10, 2013, 5:35 GMT

    Sad to see Sehwag go this way. But he has to go, one day. Dhoni finally succeeding in his schemes. I hope and wish Sehwag comes back with a bang and gets a fitting and well-deserving farewell. Miss you Viru! :-(

  • Jay on March 10, 2013, 3:01 GMT

    Ugra's reading of the selectors' 'youth policy' & 'succession planning' is puzzling. Do a reality check: The playing XI is a good mix of experience & youth: 4 players over 30 years old, 4 below 25 & 3 between 25 & 30. Dhawan - Viru's potential replacement - at 27 is no spring chicken. Nor Vijay at ~29. The spinners Ashwin (26), Harbhajan (32) & Jadeja (24) delivered big time, esp. Ashwin. Why Bhajji? As Dravid rationalises: Play 2 right-arm off-spinners, given that Oz started 4 left-handed batsmen in their top 6. It worked: horses for courses. Succession planning means fielding the best available for a series, a game at a time. It's not about some fancy long-term plan or personal wish-list. It's patiently building a team for stability. Many "uncertain" factors - injuries, fatigue, form, personnel issues, weather - can affect a team's fortunes, as India experienced in 2011/12. Now it's bouncing back from a transitional down-cycle. A job well done by the selectors & team management!

  • Al on March 9, 2013, 20:54 GMT

    Agree with @ Cpt.Meanster - India could still win the last 2 tests against Australia WITHOUT Sehwag. We don't need him in the team any more. His glory days are over. I am an Indian fan first. The team comes FIRST for me. Sadly, many of my fellow Indian fans are BLIND in worshipping of their idols. It's to get rid of other perennial non-performers - 10DULKAR, ISHANT, and BHAJJI

  • mukesh on March 9, 2013, 18:43 GMT

    better late than never ,even at his best he was a big gamble on bouncy and swinging conditions and now he cant handle quality pace bowling even on indian pitches , also when will the selectors show a bit of guts and drop harbhajan singh , pragyan ojha deserves to be in the team more than any other spinner

  • Jay on March 9, 2013, 17:19 GMT

    India could still win the last 2 tests against Australia WITHOUT Sehwag. We don't need him in the team any more. His glory days are over. I am one of Sehwag's biggest fans and still adore him. However, I am an Indian fan first. The team comes FIRST for me. Sadly, many of my fellow Indian fans are BLIND in worshipping of their idols. This sentimentality and stupidity is what makes a demi-gods out of average players in India. Not that Sehwag was an average player by any means. Still, his reliance on hand-eye coordination is getting the better of him. If he can't bat on the slow, low pitches of India, he will be thoroughly exposed on the quick and bouncy wickets of SA. Steyn and Co. will feast on his wicket. So it's better to retire now with some dignity cause I honestly cannot see him come back to the Indian team any more. That leaves Tendulkar as the ONLY veteran player in the side. Sachin is still scoring some runs, so I say give him one more away series.

  • Mragendra Kumar on March 9, 2013, 8:18 GMT

    It is always well said never change winning combination.if there is change to be made it could have been after australia series.he is not among runs scorrer.may be it is felt that he is a liability in are ishant,bhajji.except first test even sachin is not among runs.evaluate players after series is over not in middle of it.

  • giri on March 8, 2013, 20:10 GMT

    One thing is for sure, cricket fans of both pro and against the decision of dropping him from the team should realize that horses for courses saying is right for at least in the sports, when there are so many young players are waiting for their chance to prove themselves, why not give a chance and see how they perform in india and abroad. This will make the team much more competitive than what it is now, and it should be applied across all the players without the bias of junior senior or young old or present past records or state club etc. The obsession with a particular player should be in the team no matter what will only make the team less sportive and competitive.

  • Dummy4 on March 8, 2013, 20:09 GMT

    Saying that greenhorns like Dhawan and Rahane won't come handy overseas doesn't make sense. Sehwag and Gambhir failed miserably on the tours to Australia and England. They were still given chances, on the other hand, players like Rahane and Vijay who possess an excellent technique will definitely come handy overseas, they should be given a chance.

  • murali on March 8, 2013, 15:46 GMT

    some of viru fans suggesting him to go to county season instead of IPL thats not going to happen remember he delayed surgery to shoulder so that he can play ipl keeping in mind to skip india tour of england

  • Hardik on March 8, 2013, 15:03 GMT

    There is another alternative for Sehwag and Gambhir to find some form. Skip the IPL and play county cricket. But obviously, they will prioritize money and T20 over test anyday. My respect for them will grow if they decide to pursue this track. We all know what wonders an English County season can do and with lots of overseas tests coming up, it may be a good idea to skip one season of IPL.