Is there a way back for Sehwag?
Virender Sehwag's exclusion from recent India teams, and his dismal form in the ongoing domestic season, has resulted in speculation that his international career has met an abrupt end. However, experts who have worked with and observed Sehwag in the last five years refuse to believe he is done.
In the 2013-14 domestic season, Sehwag's highest score is the 59 he scored for Delhi in the Challenger Trophy. In first-class cricket, his highest is 38, against West Indies A in Hubli. In three rounds of Ranji Trophy matches for Delhi, Sehwag has only 69 runs in six innings. Is it a bout of terrible form or is he playing badly? Is the problem technical or a loss of confidence?
Paddy Upton, India's former mental conditioning coach, says the solution is up to Sehwag. Upton was part of the coaching team led by Gary Kirsten and they were instrumental in India becoming the No. 1 Test team in 2010 and winning the 2011 World Cup.
"He [Sehwag] has come to a yield in the road, with a fork ahead," Upton told ESPNcricinfo. "He has the skill and experience to continue along the path of international cricket, or to take the path into retirement. The decision lies in a combination of his, the rivals to his position and the selectors' hands, and I think he has what it takes to take the decision out of others' hands. It's a matter of fully applying himself to the task."
Dilip Vengsarkar, a former India captain and selector, said Sehwag was experiencing a loss of form and confidence. "Both are at a low ebb because he has not scored at all. Even in first-class cricket, which is very surprising to me because Viru is a top class player," Vengsarkar said. "So for him to score should be easy. The kind of wickets and the quality of attacks, you would expect him to score consistently but there also he has failed."
Vengsarkar was the chairman of India's selection panel when Sehwag was dropped for the first time, in 2007, after he had grown one of the mainstays of the team. Back then, Sehwag was in bad form and had failed for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy. "Back then also he was completely out of form but still we picked him for the Australia tour," Vengsarkar said. "He had failed to score runs for Delhi but I was confident that the style of his play would work on bouncy pitches (in Australia)."
Vengsarkar said he had not seen Sehwag bat this season but still feared that his problem could get worse. "There is a fine line between being out of form and playing badly. Even if you're playing badly you can still score runs, but if he is out of form then it gets difficult."
Chetan Chauhan, a former Test opener and the current chairman of Delhi's selection committee, said Sehwag was going through a phase that every man, not just sportsmen, goes through. "Everything is going wrong for him right now. You don't score runs. You are desperate to score runs, so you build pressure on yourself. The reflexes are not the same because of age. You become unhappy. You become frustrated."
Chauhan felt the only way out for Sehwag was to slow down. "You want to score very quickly because you are not among the runs. In this over anxiety and over zealousness, you play wrong shots and get out. He has to have patience and work harder," Chauhan said, citing examples of Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Gundappa Viswanath and Sachin Tendulkar as people who overcame such periods in their careers.
According to Upton, more than the mental knots, Sehwag's harder challenge was staying ahead of his competition and the demands of the game. "Viru has always been a diligent worker at both at his technical and mental game," Upton said. "That said the game and those vying for his position are advancing, and it is up to Viru to dedicate himself to matching and staying ahead of the developments going on around him."
In order to satisfy a long-standing desire to bat in the middle order, Sehwag pushed himself down the order at the start of this season. However, Vengsarkar and Chauhan said that such a move was likely to be harmful. "He has scored all his runs opening the innings for India. I do not believe in him playing at No. 4 or 5 or whatever," Vengsarkar said. "I do not believe in changing his batting position. He will always be considered as an opening batsman and not middle order." Chauhan said Sehwag ever asked him, he would want him to open.
Sehwag is 35 and he began batting with spectacles at the start of 2013. He would be the first to admit his reflexes are not as quick as they once were. It is a hurdle Vengskar fears Sewhag will have to fight for the rest of his career. "As long as any player of that calibre is playing first-class cricket, I will not rule him out. But it will be an uphill task from here. He is a player with a hand-eye co-ordination. He is not a technically correct player. For a technically correct player, when he is out of form, even if he is older, it is much easier to score runs. But for a person like Sehwag, if your reflexes slow down, and your eye sight gets weaker even slightly, it gets more difficult."
Back off or take on the challenge, is Upton's suggestion. "Confidence can be misleading," he said. "Confidence is something that is linked to results, and so will always go up and come down, just as results naturally rise and fall. I believe a more important ingredient for success is self-esteem. This remains pretty much the same, whether the athlete succeeds or fails. An athlete with high self-esteem will not rely on results to look good, and will not fear failure or be too concerned about looking bad. They thus will not be pressurised by low form nor become over-confident with a run of good form.
"An athlete with low self-esteem relies on good results to feel good, and fears poor results and the accompanying not looking/feeling good. This person will struggle to come back from low form, and may lose good form early due to over-confidence," Upton said. "Viru does not need to continue playing international cricket - he has left his legacy already - but he may want to continue."
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo