Sehwag should follow his basic instinct
Had Major Edward A. Murphy Jr followed Indian cricket, he might have been tempted to modify his law: "Anything that can go wrong before a must-win game, will". India, who must win on Wednesday to keep the series alive, go in without their captain and best batsman and their team low on morale. Not the best time for Virender Sehwag to assume the role of stand-in leader: he's short on form himself, and struggling to justify his place in the one-day side.
Sehwag's assignment currently covers two ODIs, a Twenty20 and a three-day match but, should Rahul Dravid's finger not heal in time, it may extend to the Tests too. It's arguably the toughest challenge of his career and one can think of only one way for Sehwag to deal with the situation: inspire through his batting.
He needs to reel off the quick starts and impose himself on games - something he's threatened to do often but fallen way short. He may not possess Dravid's cerebral acuity but one can expect him to bring a certain Ganguly-esque intuition with him. Munaf Patel attributed a part of his success on the West Indies tour to Sehwag's simple advice: "Imagine you're the batsman at the other end and bowl the deliveries you wouldn't like to face". The uncluttered approach he brings to his batting needs to form the basis of his captaincy.
"The best part about Sehwag is that he won't mince words," Aakash Chopra, the former Indian opener who's played under Sehwag for Delhi, told Cricinfo. "He'll tell you what he thinks and keep you on your toes. The general impression is he's flamboyant and doesn't think a lot but that's wrong. If he's leading, he thinks about what others should be putting in. He likes to have a good laugh too and makes sure it's not all serious. He plans a lot and can be unorthodox. When he led India in Ahmedabad [in the third Test v Sri Lanka], for example, he had two short legs. He's very instinctive."
As Dravid's vice-captain, though, Sehwag has often been disappointing. His batting has taken a dip - under Dravid's captaincy he averages 30.16 in 33 games and hasn't managed a single hundred - and he's not led by example, the bloated waistline and palpable disinterest telling their own story.
Most crucially, his relations with his teammates and coach are not ideal. It seems he's out of sync with the Chappell-Dravid philosophy -his run-ins with Chappell are common knowledge - and one media report today quoted a team official as saying that Sehwag could have played the second ODI "if he wanted to". It's no secret that communication lines between Sehwag and certain sections of the team are blurred: a few older members of the team think he's not pulling his weight and some juniors aren't comfortable with his cockiness.
Ironically, it appears he wasn't even the automatic choice for vice-captain; the selection committee was apparently split about his appointment for this tour. Indeed, he seems to have got it by default. Mohammad Kaif, once touted as a future Indian captain, is yet to cement his place in the side. Ditto Anil Kumble in the one-dayers. Harbhajan Singh, one of the most consistent performers of late, has always been thin on leadership. That leaves Sachin Tendulkar, probably the best candidate for the vice-captaincy under the current circumstances - universally respected, neutral and tactically shrewd. Maybe he wasn't keen to take it up, maybe nobody asked.
Sehwag got the job and he's now got a promotion, albeit temporarily. Given India's surrender in the previous two games, Sehwag has nothing to lose, starting his captaincy campaign with zero expectations. It may actually work to his advantage, giving him a chance to attack, both with bat and head. A lucky slash here, a fortuitous reprieve there can be the difference between a disappointing score and a sizeable one.
If there's one man who's capable of hitting himself out of an abyss, it's Sehwag. And if he actually finds his striking form, India can ignore Major Murphy's law.
Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo