The scoreboard read 7/2. Delhi had lost opener Mohit Sharma and captain Virat Kohli in the space of 12 deliveries in the opening match of the NKP Salve Challenger Trophy against Indian Blue on Thursday.
And that’s when Virender Sehwag walked in to bat. At No. 4.
The kind of shots he played at the Holkar Cricket Stadium in Indore reminded many of his glory days. His free-flowing approach made the 271-run target look all too easy.
Sehwag powered his way to a brilliant half century (59, 38 balls, 9x4, 1x6) as the Vijay Hazare champions raced to 85 in the 13th over. But a few minutes later, left-arm spinner Iresh Saxena had him caught and bowled.
Sehwag’s departure did cost Delhi the match they fell 18 runs short but it sure started a debate over his role as a batsman.
“I always see Viru as an opener. The decision to play him in the middle order is purely that of the team captain and coach. We selectors have nothing to do with it.” This is what Delhi chief selector and former India opener Chetan Chauhan had to say.
Chauhan, however, revealed that Sehwag had been contemplating this move for quite some time. The reason? He feels it would be tough to displace Shikhar Dhawan, Rohit Sharma or, for that matter, M Vijay.
Amar Nath Sharma, Sehwag’s childhood coach, believes his ward should do what he does best open the batting. “I haven’t had any time to discuss this with Viru in detail. But I can only say that it would not be a good idea for him and Team India to have him at No. 4,” Sharma said.
It must be mentioned here that Sehwag started his first-class career as a middle-order batsman for Delhi. In fact, he scored a hundred on Test debut (against South Africa in Bloemfontein in 2001) at No. 6. It was Sourav Ganguly who pushed him to open the innings.
It may be recalled that Sunil Gavaskar, too, had batted down the order in the sunset years of his career. But Chauhan, who was Gavaskar’s long-time opening partner, rubbished the comparison. “You can’t compare Sunny with Viru,” he said, adding:
“My reasoning is simple. Sunny was technically very strong, whereas Viru’s strength is his explosiveness. Also remember that Viru’s explosive batting at the top has helped India chase targets on many occasions. He would just and demoralise the opposition.”
Sehwag’s coach echoed Chauhan’s sentiments. “Having Viru as an opener makes life easy for rest of batsmen. Viru is no ordinary cricketer. He can’t be compared with anyone in the world. I can only say that he should stick to original role,” said the veteran coach.
Another Delhi selector, however, disclosed that there was no discussion on Sehwag’s batting order in the selection committee meeting.
“The only discussion we had was about the captain. Sehwag was obviously the first choice, but because Kohli was recently named the vice-captain of the Indian team, we felt we should give him the job,” said a selector on condition of anonymity.
Sehwag was obviously miffed over the selectors’ decision to ignore him for the top job. But it remains to be seen what MS Dhoni and the national selectors have to say about his new role.
These are interesting times!