Vantage point

Monday, January 08, 2007

In Defence of Sehwag

Whenever we suffer a bad defeat, everyone including fans, media, experts, and even the team management start sharpening their claws. Bring us our scapegoat, we say. This time it is unanimous - the culprit is Sehwag.

Even I wrote a few days back that maybe Sehwag should be dropped for the next series. And maybe he will be dropped. But before that, here is something that should be considered.

Most of Sehwag's dismissals have been because of not being able to handle movement due to seam and/or swing. He has been caught behind or in the slips most of the times.

This movement is seen only at the start of an innings. Which is why opening is considered a specialists' job. It is not easy to survive such movement, much less dominate it. Until now only one Indian opener had scored more than a handful of centuries and that opener was Sunil Gavaskar. Ever since he retired, Indian cricket has seen a string of failed specialists openers, failed makeshift openers, or wicketkeppers promoted to open.

Rahul Dravid has tried opening, and has failed. Laxman tried opening and failed. In fact Laxman was so sick of the opening slot that rather than do the job, he prefered staking a claim for the middle order. A string of domestic centuries earned him that slot, and he did well at No.3, but not for long. He is more comfortable at No.6.

Given such a background, Sehwag's spectacular success at the top of the order, with 12 centuries, most of them quickfire knocks in excess of 150, is remarkable. It shows the man's talent, range of shots and stamina.

Now he is going through a bad patch. Be it his hand-eye co-ordination or his balance, but he is not able to dominate the movement that well. All those who say "Sehwag has been figured out" are talking through their hat. I challenge them to explain exactly what they mean by he has been figured out. Every batsman in this world is vulnerable to the moving ball on or outside the off-stump. He has faced similar lines of attack in the past and has successfully subdued them. He is going through a bad patch right now, so is nicking them.

Considering that he is not a specialist opener, and even at the peak of his success said, that he eventually wants to be in the middle order, one thing that should be done before dropping him is giving him an extended run in the middle order or the lower order. His 40 in the first innings at Cape Town was quite compact and he did not seem troubled by pacers, since the new ball movement was gone, and he can handle reverse swing well. I am quite confident that given a run in the middle order, he will surely outperform Tendulkar, Laxman and Ganguly.

Whom will he replace? I'll say the same thing most people say. When India does not get good starts, Dravid is effectively playing like an opener when he faces the new cherry. So he can promote himself, the way he has often done in ODIs. That will make room for Sehwag in the middle order.

This was as far as tests are concerned. In ODIs, since Ganguly is back, he can open with Tendulkar. And Sehwag can be in the middle order. Sehwag's catching and his bowling are also valuable assets for the ODI team, and leaving him out of the World Cup plans will be suicidal.

I know this won't happen. He may still be dropped. And much like Ganguly, he will come back.

But alll those asking for his head, remember - HE IS NOT A SPECIALIST OPENER!