December 9, 2007

Where's Viru?

India have missed a trick by not naming Sehwag in the preliminary squad for Australia

India have made their first big mistake and the team hasn't even been selected, let alone set foot on Australian soil.

As the gambler says, "You've got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em." Now was not the right time to give up on Virender Sehwag. His selection for Australia would have been a gamble worth taking. Forget about whose nose might have been put out of joint, the Australians still fear Sehwag from the last tour, and it's rarely that you have a chance to put one over on the Baggy Green caps, so when the opportunity arises, you grab it with both hands.

Sure, Sehwag isn't in the form he was during the 2003-04 tour. However, he did rip 195 off the Australian bowlers at the MCG back then, and that blazing knock included 25 fours and five sixes, and he only faced 233 deliveries. If he hadn't holed out to a full-toss from part-timer Simon Katich, attempting to hit his sixth six, he would easily have scored 200 on the first day of a Test against a decent Australian attack. There are very few batsmen with the ability to open the innings and score 200 on the first day of a Test, and without that hiccup at the MCG, Sehwag would have achieved the feat twice.

More importantly, Brett Lee was in that bowling attack. Nowadays, Lee is the spearhead of a revamped Australian attack, and having stepped into Glenn McGrath's large boots, he seems to have also borrowed some of McGrath's ideas, as he is now bowling with a lot more accuracy. However, in his former role as a tearaway, Lee was always susceptible to an attack from an aggressive batsman: he would revert to bowling bouncers and yorkers in an attempt to dismiss the player, and often runs would flow in torrents.

If for no other reason, India should have played Sehwag against Australia just to see if he could rattle Lee and force him to forget the McGrath impersonations. Sure, you might have to disrupt a settled and successful Indian side, and that is generally not a good idea, but this was a time to gamble, to not only hold the ace but to then go ahead and thump it down on the table.

I'll bet Anil Kumble, as a bowler who understands what a disruptive force like Sehwag can do to an opponent, would have been happy to handle any diplomatic issues arising from a controversial selection. Once a captain understands that all the wins and losses go against his name and not those of the selectors, he will push for the best team with which to clinch victory. If he doesn't, he's either foolish or too good-natured, and neither disposition is a recipe for successful captaincy.

A captain only needs to answer one question concerning the selection of a batsman: "Can he get me a hundred?" If the answer is yes, he's in the team and then it's up to the captain to handle any personality clashes within the side.

In Sehwag's case the answer is even more straightforward for the captain. He can not only score a Test hundred, he can also do it in a hurry and against new-ball bowlers. The batsman's role is to score quickly in order to give the bowlers as long as possible to take the required 20 wickets to win a Test. Sehwag's batting leaves you with more time than a flight that arrives early.

The selectors should at least have chosen Sehwag in the preliminary squad of 24. That way the Australians would have had to include him in any preparatory discussions on how to bowl to the Indians. And then the Indians should have gone the next step and included him in the touring party. Not only would the Australians have been confronted by a potential match-winner, but his selection for a tour where he's had previous success may just have rekindled the fire in Sehwag's belly.

To not select Sehwag in a squad of 24 doesn't make any sense, either on the score of ability or in the psychological stakes. India has folded when they had the perfect opportunity to bluff; that's not the way to win - at cards or cricket.