No country for old men – Sehwag, Gambhir, Yuvraj and Zaheer face the comeback challenge

Blog by: Nayyar
To those who woke up to a lazy Sunday afternoon yesterday, it came as quite a shock that a certain Yuvraj Singh was playing a whirlwind innings, albeit for an Indian A side.

How good was the innings?

If you compare Yusuf Pathan’s 70 off 32 to Yuvraj’s 123 off 89, it’s not so easy to pick the latter, but that’s when you have to look beyond the numbers. The punch/jab/poke that Yuvi played against the near perfect yorker by Ronsford Beaton, that saw the ball clearing the sight screen quite comfortably, can only be seen to be fully appreciated.

He was in the groove during the latter part of the innings, and that hour or so was a throwback to the typical Yuvraj of old, playing free flowing cricket and caressing the ball oh(!) so cleanly.

It’s a joy to watch such an innings, and though it came against a second-rate West Indian A side, it will motivate the rest of the old guard waiting for a chance to make a comeback.

In the coming weeks, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan, Gautam Gambhir, and even Mohammad Kaif will get a chance to put their case forward to the Indian selectors.

Virender Sehwag has enjoyed a quiet break

Among the major four, Virender Sehwag has had the quietest break from international cricket. Gautam Gambhir signed for English county side, Essex, while Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan went to a small French town of Brive-la-Gaillarde to train, away from the blazing media glare they are so accustomed of. Sehwag meanwhile, checked in at the MRF Pace Foundation in Chennai to work on his basics under the watchful eyes of Glenn McGrath.

After mediocre performances last year, these seniors have been away from headlines, while the younger generation enjoyed their moment under the sun over the past 7-8 months.

But as the domestic season in India commences this September end, these seasoned cricketers will be in focus, once again, and we’re not giving up on them just yet.

The Delhi lads – Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir

Essex v Northamptonshire - LV County Championship

Gautam Gambhir signed up for Essex

The last one to fall, Sehwag retained his place in the side till as late as the 2nd Test against Australia earlier this year. He was replaced by Shikhar Dhawan for the 3rd Test, and with some Sehwagesque batting, a dream run followed for the moustache twirling Delhi southpaw. The doors, shut earlier, seemed to have been locked for Sehwag.

He did his dwindling chances no good with a cold IPL, save for that 95 not out against Mumbai Indians which proved to be a false dawn for him and his fans. His training at the MRF Academy is the only news in the past couple of months which hints at him trying to work his way back into the team.

He’s been selected in Delhi’s probables for the Challenger Trophy and the India A squad for a couple of four-day games against West Indies A.

His ex-opening partner, Gautam Gambhir’s Essex experience so far hasn’t really created ripples, but his 106 against Gloucestershire, though against a weary and inexperienced attack, would have given him a confidence boost.

But more than anything they’ve done on their part, the fact that there’s still some talk about their comeback, indicates how Murali Vijay, the highest run-scorer in the series against Australia this year, has been unable to keep the door firmly shut.

The Tamil Nadu batsman was included in the Champions Trophy squad, but after failing to impress in the practice matches, was replaced by Rohit Sharma, who himself found form, much to everyone’s surprise.

A mediocre outing in the tri-series in West Indies followed, where his scores of 30 and 27 failed to impress the selectors, who included him the A-tour to South Africa, hoping for the batsman to come good before they make a final call on the opening position.

He played only four matches on the tour, and though the tour wasn’t a failure (he scored 60 and 40 in two List A matches, and 44, 4 and 0 in two First Class matches), the lack of chances in the middle hasn’t erased the question mark over his place in the national side.

Amidst the clouds of uncertainty that hang over the Indian calendar, the upcoming few months will bring more clarity on the case of the second Indian opener.

Shikhar Dhawan remains the automatic first choice for the top slot, and though Vijay hasn’t really forfeited his advantage, further instances of good-but-not-good-enough knocks will spell trouble for him.

He hasn’t been included in the A-squads against West Indies, but unlike Sehwag and Gambhir, will be playing in the Champions League T20, but if he fails to make the most out of this opportunity, it’ll be really hard for the selectors to overlook any coming-back-into-form innings from the seniors.

World Cup heroes on a French sojourn – Yuvraj Singh and Zaheer Khan

Proud heroes of India’s glorious 2011 World Cup campaign, both Yuvi and Zak have fallen from the elite pedestal in the past couple of years.

Over the past few months, each and every small news and Twitter update on the duo’s training coming out of France has been heartening. A high performance physical trainer, Tim Exeter’s name was suggested to them by Zaheer’s coach Sudhir Naik, for boosting their fitness level, and the duo seem to have done a world of good to their physiques.

Being out of favour is nothing new for Zaheer Khan, whose county stint with Worcestershire sharpened his skills and turned him into a top class wicket-taking bowler. Out of form and out of the national team, in 2006, in the cold English downpour, Zaheer Khan studied and fine tuned his skills, making the sort of return which can inspire a hoard of youngsters who have fallen by the wayside after a season or two.

After a dream run and a World Cup win in the past 4 years, his knowledge and skills remain intact, even enhanced, but his body failed him. With time running out so quickly for him, it would have needed a lot more motivation and that maverick urge to play the sport, that sent him to a European nation not known for its cricket and made him work on his shortcomings.

Zaheer Khan training in France

He’s back 5 kilos lighter and hopefully, with more years of international cricket left in him.

His partner on this journey, Yuvraj Singh looked good for another 50-odd runs before he holed out in the deep yesterday after making a brilliant century. After 2011 World Cup, Yuvraj has certainly achieved immortality in Indian cricket’s history, but that “passion for cricket” remains in him.

By his own admission, his goal is featuring in the 2015 World Cup. There’s no doubt that India needs his services, and after turning 32 in December this year, it won’t be a surprise if he does make it.

Yuvraj Singh in France during training

In understanding the need of the hour, this duo has fared much better than Sehwag and Gambhir, and are further helped by the fact that India cannot deny the services of an in-form and seasoned all-rounder and pace bowler. Murali Vijay and Rohit Sharma, if not having set the stage alight, haven’t really disappointed in the recent past either, and however odd it may sound, the Delhi duo has a harder competition to beat.

The past one year has seen MS Dhoni’s Indian team take a very distinct shape, devoid of any old machinery. But some of these parts are now well-oiled and having run the countless miles, are prepared to pull Indian cricket further.

Experience isn’t an enemy of Indian cricket. The problem here in the subcontinent has been the inability of the stars to know when their time is up. Having seen so many examples before, it’s only fair that the fans and selectors tread with caution ahead. But maybe, only maybe, some of these stars do know there’s some gas left in the tank.

Yuvraj and Gambhir are nearing 32, Sehwag and Zaheer, 35, and however great the likes of Dhawan, Pujara, Kohli and Jadeja may perform, if you’ve seen what these men are capable of, you wouldn’t mind them getting their fair share of chance for that one last hurrah in their magnificent careers.

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