In thirteen visits to the wicket during the Ranji Trophy season, Virender Sehwag scored just one half century — against Vidarbha at the Roshanara Club Grounds in New Delhi. The first innings knock came after Vidarbha were bowled out for just 88 but as Delhi piled 448, Sehwag’s highest score of the season was overshadowed by a century by Mithun Manhas in a game his side won by an innings and 156 runs. For a batsman who used to dominate bowling line-ups, Sehwag has failed to put even a domestic attack to sword.
In an effort to make runs, Sehwag dropped himself down the order except for the final league game against Karnataka, a side which arguably has the best bowling attack. Opening with Gautam Gambhir, Sehwag made 32 and 11 at the Feroze Shah Kotla, which remains his last outing.
From Thursday, Sehwag, now 35, will get another opportunity to find form when the zonal leg of the Vijay Hazare Trophy begins. At the Feroz Shah Kotla nets on the eve of Delhi’s first game against Jammu and Kashmir, Sehwag chose to practice the cover drive against a series of throwdowns. Delhi skipper Gambhir’s stint in the adjacent nets against the fast bowlers and the spinners was longer.
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But more than the duration in the nets or the intensity of practice, what will matter is whether Gambhir and Sehwag put a price on their wicket and show the intent to bat for long periods in a tournament they wouldn’t have been playing if they remained Team India regulars.
Gambhir has had a better Ranji Trophy season compared to Sehwag. A century against Haryana, three half-centuries and 123 against West Indies A has kept him in the reckoning. In the run-up to the Vijay Hazare Trophy, there has been enough happening off the field – Gambhir and Kotla curator Venkat Sundaram had another run-in over the nature of the wicket on Monday – to distract him.
On Wednesday, the difference between Gambhir and the curator was ‘amicably solved’, which means he can now focus on the task at hand — of leading the defending champions from the front.
Gambhir and Sehwag fall in the category of those India players who have fallen down the pecking order and are striving to make a comeback. The Baroda trio of Irfan Pathan, Yusuf Pathan and Munaf Patel will also strive to catch the eye of the selectors. Both the Pathan brothers were handed pay cuts at the IPL auction, a reflection of the fact that they are not considered to be as valuable as they used to be but they are better off than Munaf Patel who remained unsold. Uttar Pradesh medium-pacer Praveen Kumar too suffered the same fate as of Munaf at the IPL auction, hence opportunities to prove his worth will be limited. Kumar will be captained by Suresh Raina, culled from the Indian ODI team for the Asia Cup and currently only part of India’s Twenty20 side.
Bengal batsman Manoj Tiwari returns to action following an injury-layoff after knee surgery. Tiwari missed the first-class season after going under the knife and the injury-prone batsman will be hoping that he lasts the full tournament on his comeback. His appearances for India has been limited to eight ODIs and three T20Is since making his international debut seven years ago.
Punjab skipper Harbhajan Singh’s progress will be keenly followed following the recent poor form of Ravichandran Ashwin, who replaced him in the Indian side.
Outside those who have played for India and are looking for a foothold to make a comeback are a set of hopefuls with potential. Among them are Jammu and Kashmir captain Parvez Rasool, Rajasthan’s medium-pacer Pankaj Singh, Himachal Pradesh’s all-rounder Rishi Dhawan – the highest wicket-taker in Ranji Trophy this season – Karnataka middle-order batsman Manish Pandey. Of these Rasool came the closest when he was part of the Indian team, which toured Zimbabwe last year but didn’t get a game in the 5-0 series win.
On Thursday, Jammu and Kashmir, which reached the knock-out stages of the Ranji Trophy for the first time in over two decades this season, face a Delhi side that comprises Gambhir, Sehwag and Ashish Nehra. Since being eliminated in the quarterfinals by Punjab, Rasool and his side will get a platform to show that they can compete against teams which have big names in their ranks.