Like many others I am sure, I was saddened to see Virender Sehwag left out of the Indian team this week. Despite my frustrations with him during my tenure as Indian coach I could not help but love him. He is, after all, a loveable rogue. And he can bat better than most.
In fact, he is the most gifted ball striker that I have seen. I remember well the first time I was able to watch him up close. It was in Bangalore soon after I began as national coach.
Viru arrived early for an Indian team camp at a time when 30 of the best pace bowlers from around India were finishing off a camp of their own. He asked if he could have a hit against some of them in a centre wicket session.
We were on the NCA ground which is wedged in the triangle formed by the confluence of Cubbon and Queen Roads to the side of Chinnaswamy stadium. The wicket was well grassed and bouncy, but he walked in with a new bat and hit everything sweetly from the middle.
Considering the wicket and that the bowlers were swinging, seaming and bouncing the ball disconcertingly, this was as awesome a display of menacing power and precision batting as I had witnessed. I was excited about working with someone with such sublime skill.
To say that Viru was one of the great frustrations of my time with the team is an understatement. Sadly, he continues to disappoint and is in danger of squandering his God-given talent. The person who is least likely to be fazed by all of this is Virender himself.
What I soon learned about him was that Viru did not want to dedicate himself to taking his talent to its zenith. He was happy to turn up and play and accept what came his way. No amount of cajoling from me could shift him from his insouciant way.
This often happens to those with the greatest gift. Because he had never had to work hard at developing such a skill, Viru did not know how to dedicate himself to disciplined training. It was only during periods of relative poor form that he was prepared to spend time getting things back on track. As soon as he made some runs he slipped back into old habits and appeared content to practise in the same old profligate way; until his form evaporated again.
His idea of a practice session was to hit the bowlers as hard and as far as he could as often as he could.
Most balls were hit in the air with no regard to whether or not they were out. I tried to encourage him to work on developing his range by playing each ball on its merit and developing some power shots on the leg side against pace.
Because Viru was so strong on the off side and only wanted to play on that side of the wicket, teams bowled very straight to him to deny him room to free his arms to hit the ball through that side.
I tried to explain to him that, if he was prepared to work on developing leg side options against the faster bowlers, it would, in fact, force them to bowl more to his strength. He wasn’t interested.
The other area of frustration for me was that he did not keep himself in good shape and would often be troubled by a back ailment that restricted him in the field and made him even less likely to want to put time into expanding his ability. Apart from his batting skills, he is a very talented off-spin bowler and he should have been the best slip fielder in the team, but he eschewed the responsibility at every opportunity.
Strangely, for someone who only wants to play the game on his terms, he harbours a desire to captain his country. I have no doubt that he could do it for he understands the game well, but what he fails to grasp is that with the honour comes responsibility. In fact, the responsibility to show personal leadership has to come before one can earn the higher honour. He wants the prize, but has been unwilling to pay the price.
The surprising thing was that when Viru got runs in 50-over cricket, India often lost. For one thing, he seemed more concerned with his strike rate than the bigger picture. He would play shots from the first ball and not stop until he got out, which was often just when the team needed him to go on to a big score.
Usually, if he got a start, he would get away to such a flyer it would get everyone at the ground excited, including his team-mates who would then think that they should score 300 plus. Once Virender got out, the good start was often squandered by the loss of multiple wickets as others tried to maintain the frenetic run-rate and generally the game would slip away. Seven years on, nothing much has changed. He has worked on his fitness and appears to be in better condition, but on the evidence of his training in Australia early this year he still practises the way he has always done and the results, unsurprisingly, are similar.
It is unlikely that Sehwag will ever change. It is probably too late now. But, if Dhoni and the selectors have decided that enough is enough and that they have a better chance of winning the World Twenty20 without him, I reckon the Australian bowlers will breathe a little easier on Friday.