Facing up to a young spinner in the middle of the Chinnaswamy stadium on Sunday morning, Virender Sehwag stretched fully to defend a delivery pitched on leg stump. And he saw off a few more deliveries.
Just when one wondered whether Sehwag had gone soft in his approach, the tone of his
batting changed. What started with a drive that sped to the cover boundary turned into big hits that flew over the fielders and landed close to the boundary or beyond.
Same was the case when he positioned himself, with Sachin Tendulkar, Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan, at deep backward square leg to practice catches off hook shots, fed by bowling coach Joe Dawes. Dhawan ran forward and dropped one. The next one was hit down Sehwag's throat, but he grassed it. Smiling, he picked and returned the ball before walking back, as slowly as ever, all vintage Sehwag.
Throughout his India career for well over a decade ago, it has been hazardous to link Sehwag's seemingly casual approach to training with his state of mind or the kind of innings he will produce next. His hand-eye coordination and tremendous bat speed was all that seem to matter for his agenda-setting batting.
But times are changing, and the blow was dealt by the national selectors, who, despite being saddled with a team in transition, still dropped one-day cricket's highest scorer (219) for last month's England series. Despite his direct methods, Sehwag has been far more consistent in Tests --- his 50-plus average alone puts him among the greats --- not to talk of his class or entertainment value. But his struggles in the last two seasons have raised concerns whether his famed reflexes are giving up on him.
This Australia may be weaker to those great sides that have toured in the past, but the series will dictate the future careers of Sehwag, Tendulkar and Harbhajan Singh.
On Sunday, Sehwag got all serious and focused, for much longer than usual, facing throw-downs much after the others had left for lunch. National selector Roger Binny watched from close and then chatted with the batsman. As he headed for lunch, he was rubbing his slightly reddened eyes, perhaps the strain of using spectacles for the first time. It did show the player is willing to do the hard yards as well.
Questions about his retirement may be on everyone's lips, but there is no letup in Tendulkar's preparation. He was caught out due to lack of match practice in the home series against New Zealand and England last year, and was often bowled. But he arrived at the camp after scoring a century in the Irani Cup last week.
On Sunday, though, two nippy net bowlers caught the 39-year-old by surprise as he was bowled twice in three deliveries. The first one knocked the leg stump back and the other bowler beat him with movement to take the off-stump.
Harbhajan Singh is very much in the frame to play in his 100th Test, due to his experience and his record against the Aussies. But he is still searching for rhythm. He had a long chat with the National Cricket Academy bowling coach, Bharat Arun, and then bowled with focus on his line. But he doubled up in pain while batting after a yorker crashed into his left foot --- his landing foot. He dispelled injury worries as he resumed batting. But the moment he was done though, Dawes pulled him aside for an animated discussion.
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