India v/s Australia
Virender Sehwag’s last tweet before the start of the India-Australia Border-Gavaskar Series read: ‘Miss you Champ’ with a poignant picture of Gautam Gambhir and him shaking hands after one of their many century partnerships. Gambhir had been dropped for the series, and surely, Sehwag knew that an axe oscillated mighty close to his own head. But the fact is- he did miss his partner (in crime, lately). Much like Tendulkar could be missing Dravid, Laxman, Kumble, Zaheer…the list is endless.
2 test matches later, after three failures at Chennai and Hyderabad, Sehwag is history. To give the selectors headed by Patil their due, many were hoping that the ‘seniors’ be taught a lesson after the doomed last few test tours. One by one, they went- either on their own, or forcedly, or both. Some of them even started performing again- albeit in home conditions. Dhoni and Tendulkar being those ‘some of them’. With Dhoni hitting a purple patch, and Tendulkar still on his long last legs, it was either going to be Harbhajan or Sehwag- next on the list, to satisfy the blood-thirsty calls for action. But then, Patil and co. couldn’t risk looking like fools after bringing back Harbhajan hastily just a fortnight ago during the England series. That he hasn’t done anything noteworthy is of no concern, because the call had been made- and the ridiculousness of it all cannot be brought to light so soon with an axe. Pick him for a series, and let him fail through it- let his comeback be complete before he spins himself into oblivion with Mumbai Indians.
Those were the days
Hence, it was to be Viru. Some would argue- he was the greatest Indian test batsman of a generation. Not entirely untrue. If not the greatest, he was easily the most influential WORLD test batsman of a generation. He changed the way teams looked at test openers- with the likes of Jaffers and Katichs making way for Warners and Dilshans. He changed the way Indians looked at test cricket- and set up tests sooner than they could strategize for their usual draw-draw-win scenarios. Pitches rarely matted, conditions were not an issue- if Sehwag played through a day in the first innings, there was going to be no stopping a result.
Despite all this, his away form was questionable in his final few years. It has been 5 years since he scored a century in the doomed Sydney test in 2008- his last overseas ton- and it had been 2 years since he scored a test ton before Ahmedabad. That his last test century came only 5 tests ago is a testament to the expectations he induces- even amongst the selectors, and a long rope is often cut shorter. It is no accident that his worst test form has coincided with India’s worst test steak in decades. It wasn’t Dravid, Tendulkar or VVS that failed when India failed- it was more Sehwag than anybody- a man responsible for a country’s entire perspective on a format of cricket.
It is perhaps a mark of respect that no replacement has been chosen for him in the now-14-man squad- with Dhawan sure to make his test debut as an opener with Vijay representing the next generation (until Gambhir comes back).
No replacement, because Sehwag, the batsman, cannot be replaced. His influence cannot be replicated- just like Ganguly’s legacy cannot be tarnished, or Yuvraj’s limited-over expertise cannot be doubted.
Could this be the end for India’s best test opener since Gavaskar? Only time (and domestic cricket) will tell.
No Viru. No Gauti