The Sehwag spin: He’s the second spinner
Ajay S Shankar Posted online: Wednesday, January 03, 2007 at 0000 hrs http://www.indianexpress.com/story/19929.html
Cape Town, January 2: After one of the most bizarre Indian cricket selection dramas in recent times, Virender Sehwag managed to cling to his place in the final XI for the crucial series decider — as an off-spinner.
Yesterday, a day after the thinktank had virtually decided to replace an out-of-form Sehwag with Gautam Gambhir, a senior section of the team managed to push him back in after they had a look at the Newlands wicket here. Even this morning, skipper Rahul Dravid stood firm on Sehwag and his new batting slot in the middle order at a meeting in the team hotel — the third such session since yesterday afternoon.
Apparently, the strong feeling within, as conveyed by Dravid to the management, was that the pitch would assist spin, and Sehwag would be a better all-round option, with his part-time off-breaks, than the logical choice, Harbhajan Singh. Obviously, they also expect Sehwag to get some runs on a flat pitch in his new “safer” slot, against the old ball, and an exhausted South African bowling attack.
It’s another matter though that this decision went completely against the line of thinking advocated by chairman of selection committee Dilip Vengsarkar, coach Greg Chappell initially and a section of the BCCI. Especially after they thought it was all decided and done with during that Sunday meeting.
It is believed that they had wanted the final XI to be picked solely on merit, with Sehwag standing no chance after a miserable run of scores on this tour — an average of 9.6 in the one-day series, and a string of 4, 33, 0 and 8 in the Tests.
It’s also no secret that Vengsarkar has been against the concept of makeshift openers, especially when the team had Gambhir in reserve. But the mood among the players was so strongly in favour of Sehwag that Dravid even offered to open, which was quickly shot down because it would have meant a move up the order for everyone down the line. And finally, Vengsarkar was left alone when Chappell, too, took a U-turn late yesterday despite getting a mandate from the Board to take “harsh decisions”.
At the end of it all, the fall guy was Dinesh Kaarthick who was drafted in to replace an injured Mahendra Dhoni. And, the 21-year-old from Chennai, playing for India after 15 months, stepped out to open for the first time in just his 11th Test.
The chief selector and the coach are not amused at all over what has happened over the last two days but the senior players would like to hope that their decision was purely based on “cricketing grounds.” And after that 153-run opening partnership, highest for both sides in this series, it may even be hailed now as a “bold gamble”.
However, it’s anybody’s guess as to how this would affect the confidence and morale of young Gambhir. Or what this would mean to an emotional Harbhajan, who has been desperately hoping that he would get a chance here — he has just two ODIs and a Twenty20 match to show for now in this two-month tour. Or how it would queer up Kaarthick’s mind — he managed to score a priceless 63, but he knows it will be back to the cold storage when Dhoni returns.
Ironically enough, Sehwag had started his Test career as a middle order batsman, and scored his debut century in South Africa in 2001 batting at No 6. Then, barely a year later, he was promoted to the opening slot — a position he has held in all but three of his subsequent 79 innings — by former skipper Sourav Ganguly.
Why? Again, to save his place in the XI.