Reconstructing Sehwag

Three one-dayers, three openers, three half-centuries - a triumphant 98 for Sourav Ganguly, a confident 69 for Gautam Gambhir, and a ferocious 41-ball 70 for Robin Uthappa. All three, curiously, batting on the comeback trail. What it adds up to is problems for Virender Sehwag, who, having fallen from the heights of vice-captaincy to the depths of discard in the span of three months, finds himself in a world of quiet introspection.

Not so long ago the most destructive batsman in world cricket, Sehwag has been passed over both times the squad for the current series was chosen; his existence on the fringes has prompted the Delhi and Districts Cricket Association to organise practice games for him. Without games on the domestic circuit to prove himself - barring a solitary Ranji one-dayer against Jammu & Kashmir on February 10 - that's all he can fall back on.

One such match was at the Ferozeshah Kotla in Delhi on Monday; playing for Delhi A, on a sluggish pitch where stroke-makers struggled for timing, he scored 49 off 46 balls, finding the meat of the bat often enough to penetrate a packed off-side field. He didn't open but walked in at No.3 and was confident through his 58-minute stay. He was given one life on 19 but also hit six boundaries, including one straight drive in his typical stand-and-deliver style, before holing out trying to loft over the extra-cover fielder standing at the edge of inner circle.

Sehwag's last competitive outing was on January 10, when, having returned from a forgettable trip to South Africa, he cracked a finely-paced 106, from the middle order, against Haryana at Rohtak. Two days later he was dropped from the Indian team - the only other time he was axed was since his miserable ODI debut against Pakistan at Mohali. Dileep Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors, hoped he would "go back to the nets and sort out his cricket, his batting basically".

Nobody can argue with that. Since the start of this season he's averaged 14.8 in ten matches, with just one fifty. He's gone through lean patches in the past - some may even argue that he's hardly attained any consistency in one-dayers - but the phase that comes closest is probably early in his career in 2001. He averaged 11.4 in eight innings before bouncing back with a mind-blowing century against New Zealand in Colombo. This time there was no such innings, just a forced break instead.

So what's he done over the last few weeks? He's gone back, lost weight, grown a French beard, returned to the Government Boys Senior Secondary School at Vikas Puri, studying videos of his dismissals with AN Sharma, his long-time coach

So what's he done over the last few weeks? He's gone back, lost weight, grown a French beard, returned to the Government Boys Senior Secondary School at Vikas Puri - his alma mater - and gone back to Batting 101, studying videos of his dismissals with AN Sharma, his long-time coach.

Sharma points out the two major focus areas: analysing his dismissals and trying to bat long periods. "We asked him to see his videos - how he's been getting out recently", Sharma told Cricinfo. "The aim was to find out what he wasn't doing correctly."

After seeing the videos, Sehwag would have a turn with the bat and Sharma would try and ensure the mistakes weren't repeated.

For example, in South Africa he was regularly getting out by slashing over the slips to third man - the prime example being in the third ODI at Cape Town, when he was out for a duck, caught by Andrew Hall in the deep off Shaun Pollock, in the very first over. " We worked on that. "Secondly we worked on his focus. We gave him a challenge - in 60 minutes of batting, even though it was only against amateur bowlers, don't get out at any cost. He had to stay at the wicket and play his natural game without getting out even once."

But wouldn't it have helped Sehwag if he'd more time in the middle? Vijay Dahiya, the former Indian wicketkeeper and a team-mate for several years, doesn't think so. "He's got a much-needed break," says Dahiya. "While playing constantly you don't realise what's going wrong with your game. He's had a chance to think about it. I've met him in this period and chatted with him.

"It's tough to gauge Veeru's confidence levels by talking to him - he's the same irrespective of what - but he likes to have long talks with his close friend. He keeps asking you questions - 'What's happening, what are you noticing, what am I doing wrong etc'. I think it's helped."

The selectors won't get to see much of Sehwag before they sit down to pick the World Cup squad. Maybe two games against Sri Lanka - if he's picked - or it will have to be just one Ranji ODI. They'll either have to go by past record - he was India's highest run-scorer in the ODIs in West Indies last year - potentially explosive quality, and allround value or decide to take the drastic step of leaving him behind. The first is almost a given, the second almost unthinkable. Almost.

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