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No longer a 'baby', Viru has to be a breadwinner

The attacking opener's devil-may-care attitude is bound to raise eyebrows with his repeated failures in tough foreign conditions. Rohit Bhaskar writes.

india Updated: Jan 17, 2012 02:03 IST
Rohit Bhaskar
Virender-Sehwag-R-calls-out-to-Australia-s-James-Pattinson-during-the-first-cricket-Test-match-at-the-Melbourne-Cricket-Ground-Reuters-Photo
Virender-Sehwag-R-calls-out-to-Australia-s-James-Pattinson-during-the-first-cricket-Test-match-at-the-Melbourne-Cricket-Ground-Reuters-Photo

The setting is an overseas airport sometime in the past six months. A senior player of the India team, who've lost an away Test, is about to board a flight with his teammates for the next match, hopeful. But as recent history bears testament, it is hope that borders more on wishful thinking.

Virender Sehwag is the topic of an off-the-record conversation between the said player and a reporter. In the previous match, the Delhi batsman had again perished to poor application in a Test abroad. The teammate is philosophical while weighing up Sehwag. "If we look at Indian culture and families, there's always a sense of leniency towards the younger one in the household. It's not his fault, they say, he's the youngest. With Viru, that's the way the public and experts treat him. If he plays a poor shot, a wild heave, an extravagant slog, even when the situation demands time in the middle, he's forgiven. It's not his fault, they say, that's just Sehwag," says the senior player.

Then, explaining his woes, he dwells on the larger picture. "I'm not the most technically gifted player, but I'm always treated as the breadwinner. Irrespective of shortcomings, I'm expected to do my job. If I fail due to some technical deficiencies, I'm never given the leeway Viru gets. You're the breadwinner, they say," he says, consigning himself to the harsh realities of popular perception.

He adds, "The bit that really gets to me is when after a particular match, one of you guys (journalists) ask me if I feel Sehwag played a poor shot to get out, and I have to say, 'No, that's just Sehwag'." For those keyed in, it won't be difficult to figure out who the above player is. His identity is not important here. It's his up-close view of Sehwag that's startling.

With MS Dhoni ruled out, Sehwag will lead India in the fourth and final Test at Adelaide, eager to avoid a second straight away series whitewash. It was at the magnificent Adelaide Oval that Sehwag got his last Test century away from the sub-continent.

Dry run
It wasn't your usual first innings slam-bang job either. It was a ton on the final day to save a match. Sehwag got 151 on that day. Extras were the second-largest contributor at 26.

In Tests outside the sub-continent in the four years since, Sehwag has not come close to matching the batsman who batted close to six hours to save India the blushes. Instead, repeatedly falling to reckless shots and wild heaves, even when solid starts where the order of the day.

In New Zealand in 2008-09, he got 140 runs at 28 in three Tests without a single fifty. In South Africa in 2010-11, he got 144 runs at 24 in three Tests with one fifty. In England last summer, he played just two Tests. Forget about getting a fifty, he could only total 41 runs in two Tests, 33 of which came in one innings, at an average of 10.25.

This summer, he's got 118 runs at 19.66, and after a fine 67 in the first innings of the Boxing Day Test, has been on a downward spiral that reached abysmal levels in Perth. The second innings dismissal was particularly painful. It was evident that he was trying to rein in the gung-ho attitude, and it still didn't work.

The scene now shifts to Adelaide. If India are to avoid a whitewash, Sehwag's bat will hold the key. As captain, he won't be treated like the youngest in the household. It's time for him to be the breadwinner!

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