Colombo: According to Mahendra Singh Dhoni, a good opening partnership in Twenty20 cricket is around 30 runs — scored in quick time of course.
The opener’s slot is probably the most important batting position in T20 but if that’s all that Dhoni is looking for then Irfan Pathan or Rohit Sharma or Ajinkya Rahane are all fit enough to do the job.
India doesn’t really need a Virender Sehwag to do that job. In fact, any batsman can walk into the middle and swing his bat — eventually he will connect and that is pretty much what Sehwag is doing. There will be the odd day when he will play well but mostly it’s a dig-a-hole-and-fall-into-it strategy.
Even if he had played against Australia tonight — the right-hander was not going to go down in history as a great T20 or even a great ODI player. Of course, his supporters may argue that he scored an awe-inspiring 219 exactly 11 innings back in ODIs but look at the scores after that — 10, 20, 0, 5, 30, 96, 15, 3, 34. Is that the kind of consistency you want from your opener?
His impact in ODIs is undeniable. Over the last three years, he averages 49.19 in 27 matches that India won. In the 15 matches that India lost in the same period, his average dropped to 22.13. When he gets going, he creates a winning impact but now his fitness issues are starting to hinder him.
In T20s, we don’t have much to go by except the three matches he has played this year – he has scores of 4, 23 and 8. Before that he last played T20Is in 2009 – so it’s rather unfair to bring that into consideration. He had a good IPL – he even scored five fifties in a row (a world record) but after that he slipped into an all too familiar slumber.
Just the other day, someone enquired about Sehwag’s body language. Just how does he look in the nets? Is he full of energy? Is he looking down? But the truth is his body language doesn’t really change too much from day to day – he’ll still hum a song as be bats and he’ll still smack a ball as hard as he can in the nets. However, for him to get back to his best – his body language will need to change; he will need to work hard – harder than he has ever before.
Is he prepared to do that? Or is it time for him to stick to Test cricket – a format that is played at a much gentler pace; a pace that the 33-year-old is likely to be more comfortable with. His fielding isn’t the best – in fact he needs to be hidden in the field in ODIs and T20s but he does have safe hands which is perfect for Test cricket.
He averages highest in Tests and always has – 50.64 as against 35.20 in ODIs and 21.75 in T20Is. And it’s pretty obvious that India still needs him in that format. In Tests, he is a game changer and with Dravid and Laxman retired, his value to the side increases even more. But his average (35.68) in the last 9 Tests played over the last 12 months has dropped badly and he needs to arrest that slide immediately.
In ODIs and T20s, he’s just another player – at least, that’s what the overall numbers say.
Just playing Test matches will serve another purpose — it will allow him to work on his fitness and prolong his career if he can find the mental reserves to do so. And he won’t be the first player to do that either. Anil Kumble, VVS Laxman and Rahul Dravid did that as well.
Sachin Tendulkar doesn’t play T20s either – and only the odd ODI series. And there are plenty of other players around the world who do the same thing.
There is no shame in picking one format and it can’t be about an ego issue.
Rather Sehwag is at the age when he needs to prioritise – if he wants to succeed, he can’t cruise through practice as in the day’s past. It’s a tough decision but one that he has to make before his game goes to pieces completely.