March 8, 2013

Is there some magic left in Sehwag yet?

If he has the will to continue, and the resolve to put in the hard yards, he might yet delight us again

In many ways, it was inevitable, and yet it hits you like one of his many shots over the years. Looked at coldly, devoid of emotion and without looking at the past, Virender Sehwag's omission was predictable. The runs had dried up, the rope he had been given was long enough. But the realisation that the thrill you felt within as he walked out to bat will be absent creates a longing. Sehwag kept you on the edge of your seat, he made you look forward to the next moment. He was good for cricket and he was good for India, and we don't know if he will play for India again. He has been a mighty cricketer and he will stroll easily into a room reserved for the greats of Indian cricket. Without a doubt.

But hang on, is this starting to look like a retirement tribute? There is a part of me that wishes it isn't, and there is another that fears we may not see him again. There is much stacked against him. Over the next 24 months India visit South Africa, New Zealand and England, against each of whom he averages under 30, and Australia where fifteen months ago he scored 198 in eight innings. India play away more than they do at home in this period. Of not inconsiderable importance is the fact that among the youngsters tried out in recent times, Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli, Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja, Umesh Yadav and Bhuvneshwar Kumar have all shown acceptable levels of promise and performance. Now Murali Vijay has got a big hundred too. The temptation to look at a younger man has been rendered stronger.

His chances of being picked for Mohali and Delhi would have resided in the hope that India's selectors wouldn't want to change a winning combination. I have heard that thought expressed many times and, quite frankly, have been baffled each time. It suggests that if the team is winning, it should be happy to carry along those that are not good enough anymore. No team should ever be picked on such a basis, for in the course of time everyone will then be entitled to be selected, even if they aren't delivering. Sehwag had to be picked based on his performance and not on that of the rest.

I suspect this omission is also an indicator that Sehwag will not be opening the batting in South Africa this November. If he was to, he had to be retained, but quite clearly the thinking is that the next in line must feel at home playing for India before playing an away tour. In logic, it is sound. But sadly for Sehwag, it is a tricky time to be dropped because the domestic season is over and there will be little Ranji Trophy cricket by November. To force his way back he needs games and those are not available in India.

So if it seems that the opening berth is now sealed (remember Gautam Gambhir will be in line for a comeback too), is there another option? And here the picture seems a touch rosier. Sehwag hasn't ever held back from saying that he wants a spot in the middle order. A couple of years ago, when he was in peak form, I interviewed him after he received an ESPNcricinfo Award. "Surely you accept that you are now an opener?" I asked. "No, I am No. 4…" he started. "But No. 4 is not leaving in a hurry," I said with a smile, eager to see his reaction. "No problem, I will wait." he said.

We don't know how long "No. 4" will play, for fitness will become a concern as time passes, but if for some reason Sachin Tendulkar is not on the flight to Johannesburg, India may not have a single batsman in the top six who will have played more than 20 Tests (on the assumption, of course, that Dhoni will be No. 7 on those tracks). Sehwag at No. 5, below Pujara and Kohli but above Ajinkya Rahane or Manoj Tiwary or another at No. 6, might be tempting for the selectors.

Much, of course, will depend on Sehwag's will to continue; and its translation into a rigorous fitness regime. Players like Ricky Ponting, Rahul Dravid and Michael Hussey were extraordinarily fit as 40 loomed, and VVS Laxman's great discipline and skill kept him going. Can Sehwag recall the hunger, and that extraordinary ability for hard work, again?

Age tends to dull ambition. A weary body rebels against being driven again. "The Eye of the Tiger" sounds good in the movies. But if he can summon the desire, there might still be some magic left. I'd love it to be so.

Harsha Bhogle is a commentator, television presenter and writer. He is currently contracted to the BCCI. His Twitter feed is here

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Dummy4 on March 11, 2013, 18:56 GMT

    Respect to the Sehwag's performances so far especially for adapting his ODI mode according to the T20 mode and ingeniously to the Test cricket mode sofar. He delivered as much as he can, also [its not only to shewag] but for all cricketers especially in India who are playing T20 as the early entrance for starting their carrier need to take Shewag and Yuvraj Singh's career impact due to Playing cricket in more unsuitable mental conditions, I would say the business impact will lead affect their performances in Test cricket. The simple and best way to survive is to Play straight, leave the unnecessary deliveries and more over keep your Eyes on the ball.

  • Srinivas on March 11, 2013, 18:23 GMT

    @jay57870, and also, the improved life-expectency or the condition of the joints of today's humans doesn't mean that their joints are so fit that they can compete with youngsters in competitive international sports. The improved science, medicine and technology has improved the quality of life of today's 40 year olds in comparison to the 40 year olds of yesteryears.

  • Srinivas on March 11, 2013, 16:24 GMT

    @jay57870, I agree, life-span has increased because we are able to tame medical conditions which, hitherto, lead to premature deaths. Coming to the examples you are giving, of sportsmen, exceptions are not the norms and extrapolating them to the other sportsmen is nothing but sampling bias. The sample (Suzuki) you took is not a good representation of the population (Sehwag or Bond or Flintoff) you are prescribing it to. In statistics, you don't go by the +or- 3 S.D (exceptions) from the mean to project it to subjects of interest. Even if you are not talking about all sportsmen and you are just referring to Sehwag, you need to tone down your emphasis on Suzuki. It is worth exploring. That is all. You couldn't assert Suzuki's example as a magic potion to the sportsmen out there in the real world. A rejuvenated Viru could silence his critics, but we can't hold Indian Cricket hostage for any player based on reputation or wishful Hollywood happy endings.

  • Jay on March 11, 2013, 15:58 GMT

    I agree ageing is a natural process that can't be stopped. But lifespans can be prolonged: Advances in medicine, technology & diets are pushing up life expectancy at birth worldwide! Sportsmen are playing longer because of these advances plus better protective gear, facilities & training. Suzuki's regimen requires commitment & hard work. It's not meant for any Tom, Dick or Harry. Re: boxing (a la Flintoff), a new light heavy-weight champ was crowned on Saturday: Bernard Hopkins became the oldest boxer to win a major title at age 48! Of course it takes exceptional people to achieve extraordinary feats. Sachin's still playing because of his phenomenal staying power, defying all odds. What matters is his unmatched record over 23 years (not his medical records or age). He's proven many wrong, incl. Ian Chappell who foolishly prodded him to retire in 2007 at 34! There's still time for Sehwag (34). Suzuki's regimen is an option worth exploring. A rejuvenated Viru could silence his critics!

  • Pad on March 11, 2013, 10:37 GMT

    Some players still get their good hand-eye coordination even at 40 or 40+. I remember Jayasuriya played few great innings with his usual power at 40+, and all of the sudden he lost it forever. Perhaps Sehwag lost it faster than the others.

  • Dummy4 on March 11, 2013, 3:05 GMT

    Sehwag should hang is bat and cap and focus on his school.

  • Srinivas on March 10, 2013, 18:24 GMT

    @jay, instead of Sehwag, why not send Flintoff to spend some time with whoever you are suggesting? You are so sure that Suzuki's regimen has everything to do with his fitness rather than his body. So, this spring/summer marriage with Suzuki should work for Flintoff too and, by extension, for Shane Bond, Zaheer Khan, James Pattinson and some more Aussie quickies, Tremlett, Varun, Sreesanth……….! Too bad, Flintoff and Shane Bond didn't know about this little spring/summer marriage trick, that they called it a day on their careers!

  • Srinivas on March 10, 2013, 17:55 GMT

    @jay57870, ageing is natural, universal. There's nothing half-baked about it. It ranges from changes in your lens to the capacity of the ciliary muscle controlling it, just as an example. Many humans get reading glasses by the age of 40. So, how do you know about Statchin's vision, cartilages, basal metabolic rate and 'mental' drive objectively (not relying on what he says about himself in public)? Are we privy to his data objectively? Yes, ageing tends to dull ambition too - be it Sehwag or Dravid or Statchin or Hussey. To think that a human, who plays for 23 years, scoring thousands of runs, excluding any effects of natural ageing, hasn't effected his cartilages, is ignorant. So, dear friend, throwing in some high flow language with some quotes from here and there doesn't mean much.

  • Jay on March 10, 2013, 16:07 GMT

    A suggestion: Do a comparative study of the two sports with a focus on sports medicine, injury management & fitness regimen. Another suggestion: BCCI should initiate an exchange programme to send a cricketer to, say, the NY Yankees & vice versa. How about, for starters, Sehwag spending time with their Japanese star Ichiro Suzuki (age 39) this spring/summer? According to a March 5 Wall Street Journal article "The Secret Gym of Ichiro Suzuki", he uses special machines to stay flexible & fit. As a result, he's not been on the disabled list for a muscle-related injury in his 12 MLB seasons. He credits this fitness regimen for his well-conditioned lower body, loosened shoulders & range of motion - so crucial to his game. The Yankees have now installed his machines in their facilities, along with adopting stretching & training techniques, for their players. This might be yet another option for Viru to consider. He's too good a player to write off at 34. Maybe he'll make a magical comeback!

  • Jay on March 10, 2013, 15:50 GMT

    Harsha - Age tends to dull ambition? Really? Looks like Bhogle's copying his pal Chappelli's half-baked theory of "use-by-dates" for ageing cricketers. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don't think Sachin Baby or any avatar (LOL) is close to replacing Sachin Tendulkar! Watching him in the Oz series, No. 4 still has gas left in the tank. And his perennial passion. If you think Ponting, Dravid & Hussey were "extraordinarily fit as 40 loomed", it's pointless to question the Little Master's fitness. Surely he at least has Laxman's "great discipline & skill" to keep on going? This whole Age-card is overplayed. One has just to look at baseball & the no. of elite players still playing at 40 & beyond. The MLB season is long & taxing: 162 regular-season games + pre-season & playoffs. One can see that 40-45 is becoming the new age reality. Maybe cricket can learn from baseball, given the similarities - batting, bowling/pitching & fielding/throwing. How about "benchmarking", Harsha?