The plane carrying the South African and Indian players landed at the OR Tambo International airport here around 10 am local time on Tuesday. Even as the plane was taxiing to a halt, you could hear several cellphones being switched on simultaneously, in a hurry. The time in India was 1:30 pm and the selection committee meeting in New Delhi would have been done with.
As everyone trooped off the plane, there was a buzz around the place, not just because Sourav Ganguly was back in the fold, also because Virender Sehwag, viewed for long as the natural successor to the Ganguly-Dravid legacy, had been stripped of his vice-captaincy — a message sent out to him in no uncertain terms, as someone once said a year ago, to ‘perform or perish’.
Sehwag was wearing his usual pokerfaced expression as he walked towards the baggage collection area with wife Arti in tow, so no one could know what he felt really, but he would be more than human if he did not feel humiliated by his sudden and very public fall from grace — after all, he led India during their loss in Port Elizabeth on Wednesday and is due to captain the team in India’s first ever Twenty20 game at the Wanderers on Friday and the final one-dayer in Centurion on Sunday.
On Wednesday night, after the loss, Sehwag had been equally stoic when asked about the lean patch he has been going through. “I don’t think there is anything wrong with my batting,” he said. “The problem is, when you’re chasing targets of 270, 250, 240, you tend to play your shots. Sometimes you get out, sometimes you get runs. It’s just a matter of spending some time at the wicket.”
He could not have known it was coming, but the message to him now is loud and clear — get out there and spend that time at the wicket.
What is interesting is that Sehwag has received the warning before the longer version of the game, where he has done extremely well, averaging an exceptional 52.12. Ironically, the man with a startling strike rate of 96-plus in ODIs has struggled in the one-day format, where his potential has rarely translated into consistent performance.
For long, Sehwag, blessed with exceptional hand-eye coordination, has played sans pressure, the way he wanted to. If he scored, he set things up for India and if he failed, which he did far too often for comfort in one-dayers, then it was taken as ‘well, these things happen with Sehwag’. And perhaps that has been his downfall, a string of erratic performances combined with a purported devil may care attitude (those who know him well say it’s just a front) contributing to today’s mess.
What has also probably played a part, though BCCI officials are unlikely to accept it, is the peculiar nature of the team and selectorial politics. Sehwag has long been seen as an intrinsic part of the Ganguly camp, along with a few other players the former India skipper is credited with discovering and backing when the chips were down.
If Dravid’s injury keeps him out of the first Test, you would have had an interesting situation where Sehwag would have skippered the man who made him king. And they would probably have bonded well on the field.
Laxman, on the other hand, is not considered a core Ganguly man, reputedly having been quite upset with the way he has been treated off and on, beginning with the initial debate over where he will bat in Tests followed by his continued exclusion from the one-day squad, one that culminated in his missing the World Cup, something that hurt him badly.
As things stand, though, he is not perceived as a Chappell man either, and his once strong relationship with Dravid is also supposed to be not all that strong, perhaps for the same reasons, a perceived betrayal of faith. However, all this, though reasonable, is still speculation and it will be interesting to see the equations when he gets here on Friday morning, beginning with his playing under Sehwag for the Centurion ODI.
Then again, perhaps Laxman’s elevation (incidentally, his captaincy credentials are not in doubt as he has led Hyderabad successfully, and captained India A as well) was also logical if Sehwag was to be replaced — there was no other batsman senior enough to fit the bill and perhaps Messers Vengsarkar & Co wanted to assuage his feelings in the aftermath of the selection committee chairman saying he wasn’t fit enough for the one-dayers and wasn’t fit enough, per se. It is an intriguing story, one unfinished.