England in India, 2005-06 April 13, 2006

Time running out for Sehwag and Kaif - Gooch

Graham Gooch

'India is not willing to let go on Virender Sehwag or Mohammad Kaif, or for that matter Sachin Tendulkar. But time is running out' - Graham Gooch © Getty Images
India lately has been hoping for Virender Sehwag to come good. There have been endless public assurances and even bouts of captaincy for good measure. It hasn't worked. Jamshedpur only added to the unease.

India might not fret a great deal about the loss in the sixth one-dayer. Heat was terrible and there were far too many replacements, including a new set of medium-pacers. But it needs a reassurance on its top order. India is not willing to let go on Sehwag or Mohammad Kaif, or for that matter Sachin Tendulkar. But time is running out.

Ideally, all of India would love to have these men in the 2007 World Cup. But it also needs time to think of alternatives. Between now and the Caribbean Carnival, a new player could at the most have 15 one-day internationals. If India must change horses in the midstream, the time to do it is now. That Sehwag has been affected is there for all to see. His initial bravado has given way to skepticism. Sehwag in repose at the crease has resembled a cat ready to pounce on anything which comes his way. A cobra in coil, a panther on haunches, a falcon in that strategic patrolling of the sky. He is a quintessential four-man; always visualizing the shortest and swiftest passage of the ball to the boundary. Not at the moment though. Bowlers now are teasing him outside the off-stump and he is curbing himself. He has put his instincts on hold which is a dangerous ploy for those who are nature's product. He has even begun to weigh the virtue of pull shot these days. Sehwag is not the kind of batsman who can get away by restructuring his batting.

Mohammad Kaif's case is equally a study in regret. He has been dealt harshly by fate: his 90s and 50s have usually resulted in his omission in the next game while for others it generally is a license for the next dozen games. Now when a string of failures have come, Kaif is leaning not so much on his reputation as on goodwill. Not long ago, he was one safe pair of legs in a bunch of no-gooders. Now even he doesn't stand out among Generation Next of Indian cricket. Kaif of today will increasingly have to lean on his batting to firm up his base. Mere fielding will not do.

One guesses there are still three games for these men to sort themselves out. It isn't the case of loss of ability; but a snapping up of confidence. They are lucky that India is winning otherwise they would have been still more untenable. One senses that India would still have decided on the two by the end of Abu Dhabi games

Among the youngsters, Ramesh Pawar has steadily gained in impression. In Jamshedpur, he stuck it out with bat. He has the sort of frame which would be ridiculed in modern era. One is now used to seeing a lot of fitter, stronger and mobile cricketers on the field. He is a complete antithesis of it and sooner or later the cry on his frame would only get shrill. For the moment though, he is allowing India to play with five bowlers. Pawar's presence has also galvanized Harbhajan Singh, who has by far been the best bowler on either side in the one-day series. Against better players of spin than England, it would be tricky for India to choose between the two of them.

England, on their part, would be happy for the form of James Anderson who has been one spirited presence since the Mumbai Test. Andrew Flintoff now probably can choose to stay in the hut in Indore as well. Andrew Strauss too could smile as there wasn't an Irfan Pathan to keep him in torment. Ian Bell didn't have to bat out of his skin because of the low target and it suited England fine. By the evidence of this game, it seems okay that these three Indian medium-pacers are not the first choice of the team management.

Finally, it is nigh difficult to believe that any cricketer would be keen for competitive cricket in weather as severe as the one in Jamshedpur. Mercury is rising in India and it's time to lay down the arms.