Magicians to mortals

Magicians to mortals

Tendulkar and Sehwag need to come out of their lull in the forthcoming series against England

Life hasn’t been easy for two of the most adored stars of Indian cricket since the tour of England last year. Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag have thrilled us for several years –– multiple generations in the case of the former –– with their stirring deeds on the field. But now those wonder days seem light years away, and the two batting virtuosos have made their way down from the peak to sit among the mortals.

Suddenly, there is a massive gap between Tendulkar’s bat and pad, an area once as fortified as a dam, that even three rookie New Zealand pacers recently found easy inroads, and Sehwag’s edges no longer are eluding the fielders. Once the constant companions of big runs, they are even struggling to go past the fifty, and even crossing that mini landmark is no longer an assurance of them doing something remarkable.

In the last one year or so, Tendulkar and Sehwag have made fifty-plus scores six and five times from 13 and 11 Tests respectively, but desperation rather than assurance was the main theme in many of them. To borrow from JK Rowling, two pure bloods seem to have transformed into mud bloods, and now in their more mortal form they have a huge challenge to face in a fortnight’s time –– England.

Away from their home, Alastair Cook and company may not be the same force but they have a bowling attack that can trouble the best in any conditions. The likes of James Anderson, Steven Finn, Tim Bresnan, Stuart Broad and Graeme Swann can only be undermined, irrespective of the nature of the pitches in the four-match Test series beginning on November 15, by the naïve.

There might be a group, which take relief from England’s pathetic outings in the five-match one-day series that they lost 0-5 here around the same time last year, but in Tests they transform into a more confident outfit. So, that makes it mandatory for Sehwag and Tendulkar to be at their very best against England, against Anderson & Co to be more precise. Though the matches are played at centers –– Ahmedabad, Mumbai, Kolkata and Nagpur –– where winter may not be at its harshest, the England pacers will still nourish genuine hopes of getting a bit more assistance than usual.

In that context, Sehwag needs to find his range soon because England bowlers will be low on morale if he can take the fight to them in the budding stages of a Test. Now, India no longer have the luxury of summoning the broad blades of Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman for their rescue acts, responsibility will be that much higher on Sehwag and his partner Gautam Gambhir to prolong England’s effort to have an early crack at the relatively inexperienced Indian middle-order.

It’s easier said than done as Sehwag will perforce have to find a way to counter the swing of Anderson and Broad, and the bounce of Bresnan or Finn. Tendulkar faces a similar dilemma at number four. He doesn’t have the company of Dravid or Laxman, his partners in some unforgettable duets in the past, and the Mumbaikar has a younger generation to bat with.

There won’t be many counter arguments to the progress of Virat Kohli as a Test batsman, and Cheteshwar Pujara’s fine temperament in the longer version. But even they are still to experience the pressures of Test cricket at its fullest, and despite his own modest form, Tendulkar will have to play the role of a mentor to them as England are sure to come hard at the Indians.

Tendulkar also faces up to another problem. The batting maestro has admitted recently that at 39 there is not much cricket left in him, and that blunt personal assessment notwithstanding Tendulkar may still believe that some more runs and hundreds are well within his reach. However, not even greats can have a sustained amour fou with glorious performances, and the series against England will certainly offer some clanking evidences on how Tendulkar’s career is shaping up in its final act. Even we need to realize that magic is not supposed to last forever, and reality will come knocking at some point of time.

In contrast, Sehwag is 34, five years younger to Tendulkar, and it may seem that the Delhiite have some more time at his hand. But nothing could be farther from truth. The once tormentor of bowlers has been reduced to a forlorn figure of late, and the stories about his rift with skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni has made more news than the amount of runs he has scored, and there could be no bigger fall for a batsman in the caliber of Sehwag.  A frantic 67 made at Adelaide in January remains Sehwag’s highest score in Tests since July 2011, and that famed eye-hand co-ordination, the starting point of his stunning batsmanship, now seem to have waned with the age. But the Delhi Dasher will be banking on familiar conditions to score some runs and silence the growing clamour for his head.

Even the new selection panel under Sandeep Patil has given a faint but traceable hint that they are willing to move towards a time beyond Sehwag. Otherwise, Shikhar Dhawan, the left-handed opener from Delhi, has no business playing in the Mumbai ‘A’ side against England at the DY Patil stadium as special invitee. It’s a gentle but firm reminder for Sehwag – “Do get your act correct.”

At this stage, Tendulkar has no such immediate threats to negate, and he indicated a robust mindset scoring a blazing hundred for Mumbai against Railways in the Ranji Trophy. But the English attack is an entirely different beast, and a lukewarm outing against the visitors might prompt powers that be to sit with Tendulkar around a table to mull his future plans.

Despite their relatively wretched run, both of them still remain central figures in India’s schemes for the series against England. But as Mickey Arthur suggested to the Australians, can Sehwag and Tendulkar discover their “inner mongrel” once more against a quality side?

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