India in South Africa, 2006-07 December 1, 2006

Sehwag at the crossroads

For Sehwag, losing the vice-captaincy can be seen as either a slap on the wrist or a gauntlet hurled down



Only Virender Sehwag can decide how he reacts to the selectors' decision © Getty Images

Lost amid the din over Sourav Ganguly's return to the Indian team was the removal of Virender Sehwag from the vice-captain's post. Yet it's a decision with greater long-term implications, involving as it does a player who should be in the prime of his career and who has the potential to be peerless in his time, but who is instead in a deep slump in form.

There are, as always, two sides to the story but the story itself is a depressingly familiar one of miscommunication and mistrust. The case against Sehwag is of indiscipline, his defence is a deep-rooted sense of hurt and a bruised ego. Falling between the two are missed runs for the player and missed opportunities for his team.

On the face of it this is a slap on the wrist for Sehwag. Rumours about an attitude problem - specifically that he did not stick to dietary and training prescriptions when away from the side - have been doing the rounds for a while. Indeed, his falling out with his coach Greg Chappell dates back to the latter's early days, and the sacking of Ganguly - whom Sehwag was relatively close to - as India captain.

The problems simmered and, in the months since, Sehwag has developed a reputation, among certain sections of the team at least, as being way too detached from the rest. He was perceived as lacking ambition - being satisfied with one big knock - and perhaps content with what he'd achieved so far. Given his prodigious talent, it was felt he wasn't pulling his weight . That, too, became an issue, along with his fitness.

The immediate cause of his demotion, say top sources in the Indian board (BCCI), is the belief that he's been leaking damaging and disruptive stories to sections of the media. Cricinfo has learnt that several people in the board felt it was unacceptable that Sehwag was talking to the press about things that should have stayed in the dressing room.

"We know where these stories are coming from," said a top BCCI official. "We wanted to send a clear message to all the players that such behaviour is not acceptable."

Another factor that probably came into play was, ironically, Ganguly. There was a real danger (since abated) of Rahul Dravid not being able to lead the side in the first Test, which would have left Sehwag leading a team including Ganguly. The fear was that Ganguly would then lead by proxy and with this in mind, the selectors named VVS Laxman as vice-captain.

Yet those close to Sehwag say he's been misunderstood and is nurturing a sense of hurt that he hasn't been given his due status in the team's brains trust. He believes Chappell has been talking about him - in not very complimentary tones - to journalists behind his back, and that's where the trust broke down.

Though he was appointed Rahul Dravid's vice-captain, he was never in sync with the thinking of the Chappell-Dravid combine and found it hard to fit in. He believed he was being cut out of the planning and his inputs were not asked for.

There was also the clash of cultures. Ganguly and Wright, especially the captain, gave Sehwag leeway, believing that treating him gently would bring out the best in him. Chappell's has been the direct Australian approach, and Sehwag possibly felt that the straight-talking was not something a vice-captain should hear.

There is a point of view that Sehwag is caught up in a mixture of boredom and insecurity, that he needs to be challenged, not threatened. That belief relies on evidence from matches when Sehwag has captained India, even at Port Elizabeth on Wednesday; he's at his animated best, buzzing with ideas, several times more active and attentive on the field. That's when he really seems to be enjoying his cricket.

Having been relieved of the vice-captaincy, Sehwag can react in two ways. He could either retreat further into his shell, perceiving this as yet another slight to his talents. Or he could shake off the shackles that the vice-captaincy imposed on him, the expectations it bred in his mind, and concomitantly, the perception that they remain unrealised; he could leave all that behind and seize what lies ahead. What others see as a slap on the wrist he could see as a gauntlet thrown down by the selectors: Do you still have it in you? Only he can prove that he has.

Anand Vasu is assistant editor and Siddhartha Vaidyanathan is staff writer of Cricinfo