Tuesday brought in good news for most of the Indian cricket fans – perhaps the first tangible outcome of Lord Ganesha’s arrival this year. Long out of favour with the selection panel, due to loss of form or plagued by injuries, India’s star trio of Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Zaheer Khan have been included in the squad to play two four-day matches against the touring West Indies ‘A’ later this year, while the dashing Punjab stroke-player Yuvraj Singh has been named as captain of the ‘A’ side for the ODI leg against the Caribbean visitors. While this is certainly a welcome news for the Indian star cricketers, it remains to be seen if all four can get back to their winning ways in time for one final shot at international glory.
For starters, age is not on Sehwag’s side. His reflexes are beginning to slow down, making him a liability in the field. Sehwag faces tough competition for the opener’s slot – a position he had held since 2002 – especially in light of compatriot Shikhar Dhawan’s scintillating performances in the Champions Trophy and on the ‘A’ team’s tour to South Africa.
Sehwag’s mantra of ‘see ball, hit ball’ no longer works as effectively as it did in the first decade of the twenty-first century. For a batsman whose extremely aggressive approach instilled fear in opposing bowlers, the willow hasn’t make the correct noises. The feet aren’t moving well and his old discomfort against the incoming delivery hasn’t fully evaporated.
In the fast-paced world of limited-overs cricket, his surprisingly conservative approach betrays his own helplessness at being out-thought by bowlers. With the younger and fitter Dhawan looking to become a permanent fixture in the opening slot, the 35-year-old from Najafgarh will have to perform out of his skin in the upcoming games if he wants to entertain any hopes of a comeback. The longer format of the game, however, should help him regain his patience and give him ample opportunity to iron out the chinks in his armour. On the contrary, if he still carries his devil-may-care attitude into his game, he might even be dropped from the team permanently, scuppering his hopes of a swansong.
Zaheer Khan, on the other hand, has been making all the right noises; although, like Sehwag, he is also on the wrong side of 30s. He took off for France, along with Yuvraj, and underwent a six-week rigorous fitness programme under the watchful eye of Tim Exeter. He has lost a considerable amount of weight, and has begun bowling at full tilt during practice sessions. Long regarded as one of the slowest movers on the field, ZaK has turned to former India coach Gary Kirsten for help in ironing out his fielding woes.
Injuries have long been the bane of his career – frequent breakdowns at critical junctures during some of India’s toughest tours have robbed him of vital cricketing experience. Another spell in English county cricket, much like his 2006 stint with Worcestershire, will benefit him greatly; I really cannot imagine a Test team without Zaheer as the leader of the bowling attack.
Ishant Sharma is still wayward, Bhuvneshwar Kumar is a greenhorn in the cauldron of international cricket, while Irfan Pathan has long been out of favour with the establishment. ZaK’s experience, bowling variations and his uncanny knack for getting early wickets will certainly be an invaluable asset for captain MS Dhoni’s scheme of things. As long as he stays fit and does well in the warm-up games, he ought to be back in the side before long, and for longer than before.
Gautam Gambhir seems to have taken a leaf out of the senior Indian pacer’s book – by going to Essex to regain some form. Of late, certain technical deficiencies seemed to have crept into his batting; his tendency to play away from the body and chasing wide deliveries outside the off-stump has only highlighted his batting failures. Against the fast bowlers, the southpaw has shown an alarming tendency to shuffle towards the off-stump, looking to play incoming deliveries off his pads; more often than not, he has either been bowled or trapped LBW in such circumstances.
Also, at times, Gambhir has been overcome by the need to score quick runs, perishing early in his pursuit of them. Like Sehwag, his footwork also needs a re-look, and his tenure at Essex should help him immensely in working out the kinks in his game. If things go well for the 32-year-old, it will be a matter of time before we see him return to the Test squad.
Yuvraj Singh, on the other hand, has battled cancer, a bad back and indifferent form since winning the Man of the Tournament award in the 2011 World Cup. Now sporting a lean physique, the left-handed all-rounder has been working hard on his fitness – the French sojourn with Exeter seems to have worked wonders on him as well.
His athletic fielding, which seemed to have disappeared upon his increasing weight, will be one of his focus areas. Blessed with the ability to clear the fence at will and run fast between the wickets, Yuvraj’s presence in the ODI team is sorely needed, especially with the middle-order being inexperienced and shaky at best.
The Punjab dasher also brings in additional variety with his left-arm spin, and though Ravindra Jadeja has excelled in that role lately, Yuvraj can still be called upon to bowl a few tight overs. All he needs is a few good hits out in the middle, a lot of time on the field, and he should be back into the ODI and T20 fold in no time.
Time is clearly not on their side, but the so-far luckless four have received a very valuable opportunity from the selectors – perhaps Lord Ganesha’s arrival may have had something to do with it – to make a return to the national team. It remains to be seen if they will take the bait. For the greater good of Indian cricket, and for their own sake, the fans would hope that they do.