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Home > Cricket > The Cup > Column > Sujata Prakash

Dravid's Sehwag dilemma

March 10, 2007

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In the end, it was all too easy. As a gentle ocean breeze blew over the Trelawny stadium in Jamaica, the Indians warmed up their World Cup campaign without breaking into a sweat.

A few days earlier, Brian Lara had predicted that both sides would come at each other hard in this match. It was important to carry forth the psychological advantage a win would give, he asserted. Unfortunately for him, only one side was listening, and it wasn't his.

Without taking anything away from an outstanding Indian performance on the field, one does wonder if the West Indians didn't dig themselves into a needless hole. The pitch was such that a canny bowler could extract bounce and deceptive pace from it, something that the Indian bowlers, particularly Irfan Pathan and Munaf Patel managed with surprising results, foxing the batsmen time and again into making mistakes and paying the price.

But even they were overshadowed by Daren Powell, who might have returned better figures than the lone wicket of Virender Sehwag had the Indians been under any sort of pressure. As it stood, Dinesh Karthik and Robin Uthappa declined to treat the meager target as a license for recklessness and went about collecting runs with all the patience of a squirrel collecting acorns for winter.

Uthappa, in particular, was a revelation, and looked set to play the full 50 overs if need be without any of the adrenaline rush he is famous for. The two highlighted the glaring inability of the West Indian batsmen to display any of that patience. With only three days left for their first match against a strong Pakistani side, Brian Lara has plenty to think about.

His counterpart today has something to think about too. Chiefly, how is he going to continue justifying the faith he reposes in Virender Sehwag? Mathematically, the equation couldn't be simpler: If x cannot play y in z conditions, then x cannot play y in z+ conditions. Once the World Cup kicks off, the pressure is going to be multiplied four times, or as many times as it takes to make even an inform batsman fight to keep in control.

Emotionally, the choice boils down to this: do you continue with a failing hero who has won you many matches in the past, or do you risk blooding the new kid(s) on the block? Indians have a slightly different way of doing things. We don't junk our stanchions when they start to crumble, we wait for them to remodel themselves. It could be through yoga or meditation, or sometimes, sadly, at the expense of a better man. India's fortunes rely heavily on reliable openers, which make it imperative that both Uthappa and Karthik get to play as much as possible in the group stage.

Where does this leave Virender Sehwag? Ideally, on the bench. One suspects  Dilip Vengsarkar must be itching to corroborate that on air, but ultimately we must, like him, believe that Dravid can and will make the best decision for the team. If that means giving Sehwag another chance, and another, so be it. Team India will not crack under the strain.

The other conundrum for Dravid is happily one of affluence rather than paucity. Unlike Sehwag's continuing low scores, his bowlers are coming up trumps no matter which way he turns. On Tuesday, versus the Netherlands, it was Yuvraj Singh, Harbhajan and Anil Kumble who made ones mouth water at the prospect of an Indian summer with no less than five spinners in the squad. Today, on the same pitch described both times as 'dry with a bit of grass', the wolves hunted in a pack that ran in fast and furious. With a batting lineup that is beginning to look steadier by the minute, it will be no big surprise if the Indian think tank went in with a more aggressive 6-5 combination. Catches win matches, and bowlers generate them.

In any case, the two warm up matches have done a fine job of showcasing the myriad talents of the Indian team. With a whole week to go before their next match, and little to vex them, the only worry is that the players might relax too much.

Sujata Prakash -- familiar in the role of columnist to Rediff regulars -- took a break while shifting base from Hong Kong to New York. Now the World Cup is back -- and so is Sujata.

The Cup: Complete Coverage

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