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Of madness and method

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You are greatly appreciated for having a sense of humour that lightens things up most times. But does that mean you have the license to do the same during a funeral? And if you do it once and it appears thoughtless and looks silly, would you do it again?

 

Well, Virender Sehwag did exactly this in the second Test at Napier, New Zealand. A daunting 619 runs to account for, Sehwag and Gambhir came out all guns blazing in the first Indian innings.  Both perished to poor attacking strokes – and put enormous pressure on the guys to follow. Thankfully, Dravid (almost fully back to his defiant best) and Tendulkar (looking more fluent than he has in a long time) were the ones to follow and they took the pressure admirably, at least for a while. Dravid’s ill-timed cut when he was on 83 led to a team collapse and they were back out, following on 314 runs in arrears. And what does Sehwag do? A repeat of the first innings – a series of attacking strokes, a couple mistimed – enough to make the batsmen to follow nervous. And then, the “Nameless Spinner” comes on, and Sehwag sets out to obliterate any pretense he may have in terms of his right to breathe the same air as him. Another ugly yahoo heave and he is out leg before. Oh, lest we forget, he’s the captain in this match due to Dhoni’s injury and as he walks back to the pavilion he probably conditions himself to begin the third Test with the series even. After all, what right will he have now to give any instructions to the batsmen to follow?

 

Thankfully for India, the batsmen to follow kept their own counsel and together conjured up a stirring display of application and patience to play out 180 overs over two days (culminating in 476-4). The bizarre thing about Sehwag was the utter meaninglessness of his approach – there was no chance of pushing for a result in this game; Sehwag had all the time in the world to get set and make the second rate, one-dimensional Kiwi attack on this pathetically one-sided batting pitch pay heavily. He even got a second chance which he squandered; thankfully Gambhir, his other criminal-in-arms in the first innings didn't – and produced a magnificent monument of concentration and commitment (almost ten and a half hours consumed to make 137).

 

Whether Sehwag regrets what he did (twice) or puts it down to the occupational hazards of playing his “natural game” is anybody’s guess, but he is too gifted to waste his talent and presence in the middle like this. John Wright apparently went cuckoo more than a few times when he was coach for the same reason; maybe the way the team tallied their guts and commitment levels after his dismissal might make some change within him this time. Martin Crowe’s strong comment about Sehwag letting his team down may have rankled but it was true. Dravid’s uncharacteristic unveiled reference to that in the press conference also surprised some people. Let us just hope Sehwag is not being eased into a position of Holy Cow by the media which does not tolerate any negative thoughts about him; there has been one in Indian cricket for a few years now and it hasn’t done any good.

 

For the Indian team, this may not count as a victory but the second innings performance is as significant as one. In these T20 times, these qualities of focused stonewalling are not common in the world of cricket today, and it is heartening to see this dimension of the game so immaculately executed in a team renowned for its sparkling strokeplay. The new dimension it has shown itself capable of should stand the team in good stead for the future.

 

Sadly, pitches like this suggest a dark future for Test cricket. It is alarming to see lifeless subcontinental-like pitches rearing their head in these parts, where 300 is traditionally a very good Test innings score. It is being speculated that there is a diktat from above to produce such pitches. Will marketing people and the “free market” be given a free hand to destroy the game in these parts as well?

(Click here to know more about Jaideep)






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