Virender Sehwag has been ruled out of the ICC World Twenty20 in England after failing to recover from a shoulder injury he sustained during the IPL in South Africa last month.
He will return to India after consulting specialists in England and will be replaced by Dinesh Karthik, who was in good touch during the IPL. Karthik, who last played a Twenty20 for India in January 2008, also doubles up as a reserve wicketkeeper, something the squad was lacking.
Sehwag said he picked up the injury during the IPL semi-final against the Deccan Chargers and he would show it to a specialist in London. "There is little I can do," Sehwag said.
A BCCI media release ended days of speculation over Sehwag's fitness - the opener has been a peripheral figure during Indian practice sessions. He wasn't present for India's optional training session on Monday at Lady Bay and didn't bat on the tour until Tuesday morning, often watching his team-mates go about their routines from the sidelines. The uncertainty over his injury led to reports of a rift between him and the captain MS Dhoni, which prompted the team to make a dramatic public show of unity and emphasise their team spirit through a statement read out by Dhoni.
Things weren't much clearer today, either, at the pre-match press conference - in fact the drama descended into farce. Dhoni refused to clarify the ambiguous situation, saying "anything related to fitness there will be a press release from the BCCI". Following repeated inquiries and flared tempers among the media, team manager Chamundeshwar Nath intervened to try and defuse the situation. However, he too stopped short of saying that Sehwag would indeed be returning home.
"If Sehwag has got pain in the hand, he might not bat," Nath said. "Today he tried and he was in some discomfort. Tomorrow, we will take a final decision on him. If he is not fit enough we will inform BCCI and they will issue a press release. How much pain Sehwag is having, Dhoni cannot answer when he is batting in the nets."
Minutes after that, the BCCI had issued a release ruling out Sehwag.
Under normal circumstances, the loss of Sehwag, a proven match-winner in any form of the game, would be a massive blow to India's strategy. While India's campaign will be weaker, they will benefit from Rohit Sharma, who has made the transition from middle-order batsmen to opener successfully in the three games in England so far. Rohit scored 31 and 80 in the warm-ups against New Zealand and Pakistan, and made 36 in India's first group match against Bangladesh at Trent Bridge.
Not having the bowler-destroying skills of Sehwag to call upon if needed, however, is a blow, as is the loss of his part-time offspin in a tournament that has seen the slower bowlers play a significant role. Sehwag sustained the grade one tear to his shoulder during the IPL and the coach Gary Kirsten said that he had been kept in the squad in the hope that he would not miss the entire tournament. "If a player of the caliber of Sehwag can be available for any part of the tournament, we want to keep him there." That however hasn't come to pass and India will have to hope that Rohit's good form at the top continues even against tougher opposition and more potent new-ball attacks.
That the injury to Sehwag was such a closely-guarded secret was perplexing. An injury is after all merely an injury and a more transparent dissemination of information from the team management would go a long way in diffusing the ambiguity and speculation that often surrounds the Indian team. Perhaps they could follow Ireland's example - moments before Dhoni addressed the media, William Porterfield had spoken at length about the injury to Niall O'Brien.