Three discarded cricketers are not yet ready to ride off into the sunset.
Despite intense competition from the younger brigade and those now established in the Indian team, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir have made it clear by their performances on the field that they have no intentions of retiring as yet and would love to come back into serious contention for a place in the Indian squad in either format – Tests or the limited overs game.
In a way it is a good augury for Indian cricket for while it is always a welcome and far sighted policy to look ahead, one cannot ignore seniors who continue to prove that they are still good enough to wear the India cap.
Among the three, Sehwag has the additional advantage of being able to fit admirably at the top or the middle order of the batting. It must not be forgotten that he made his Test debut in South Africa in 2001 at No 6 and immediately made a mark with a century.
He was pushed to open the batting in England in 2002 as it was felt that with his swashbuckling skills, he could demoralize the bowling right from the start. The strategy worked like a charm and for more than a decade Sehwag was the most dangerous opening batsman in the game even with the likes of Sanath Jayasuriya, Adam Gilchrist, Shahid Afridi and Chris Gayle around.
Taking a leaf out of Krish Srikkanth’s book – the Tamil Nadu opener was a pioneer in the art of buccaneering batting at the top of the order in the 80s – Sehwag took this to another level. Despite the risks involved with this kind of batting, he was remarkably consistent and at his peak was averaging 55 in Tests.
Two triple centuries – which placed him alongside Don Bradman, Brian Lara and Chris Gayle – several big hundreds and 23 in all made him a feared opponent and one lost count of the number of times he won matches for India off his own bat. As only to be expected this was even more pronounced in ODIs and it is no surprise that he holds the record of the highest score – 219 - in this format.
Age however catches up with every sportsman sooner or later and those whose game depends on hand-eye coordination and super fast reflexes are particularly vulnerable. After a decade of entertaining crowds the world over, Srikkanth was a spent force in the early 90s and Sehwag appeared to be going the same way a couple of years ago.
The runs dried up, the big scores were just not happening and the average slid to below the 50 mark. Naturally even this gifted entertainer had to be dropped in the face of competition from talented youngsters but as I said, he has the advantage of fitting nicely into the middle order even if for the sake of argument there is no place for him at the top of the order.
Despite the presence of a number of claimants, Sehwag in form should be given priority. His typically breezy 59 off 38 balls for Delhi against India Blue in the ongoing Challengers Trophy in the middle order could be the start of an impressive run and he has already said he is willing to bat in any position should he earn a recall to the national squad.
Yuvraj Singh, who turns 32 in December, is three years younger than Sehwag. He was never really at the end of his career when he was dropped on grounds of non-performance.
The prodigiously gifted left hander always stood a good chance of making a comeback and his hundred for India A against West Indies A just a few days ago – among a series of good knocks - was just the tonic he needed to build his confidence.
He could always figure in limited overs cricket but as far as the Test team is concerned, he and Sehwag might have to fight it out for the No 6 slot in the two-match series against the West Indies.
Once Sachin Tendulkar retires, there will be that much more elbow room in the middle order and it might be possible to accommodate both should the selectors opt for experience rather than youth.
As for Gambhir, he will really have to fight for a place in the top order as Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan for the moment look well established. After a poor start to his county stint with Essex, the 32-year-old left hander came up with a hundred to prove that he too is far from finished.
Gambhir has been affected most by the dip in form with his Test average hurtling to 44 from an all time high of 57. But he is a fighter and should the Vijay–Dhawan pairing strike a bad patch, a comeback for him cannot be ruled out.
In the final analysis it is heartening to note that the selectors have so many claimants for the various positions in the batting order with the added option to choose between experience and youth. Indeed it is a case of an embarrassment of riches.