From backbone to broken-back: Quest for comeback by Team India seniors

Chaitan Papnai

You can’t rest on your past laurels, they say. Nothing does more justice to this adage than Indian cricket: A rough patch and assets for the team became liabilities. The quintet of Yuvraj Singh, Gautam Gambhir, Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh, once considered the backbone of the team are now struggling to make a place in it. And to add to their woes, all these match-winners have crossed the age bracket of thirty.

A lean patch and one of the most prolific opening pairs of all time for the country, Sehwag and Gambhir, were shown the doors by the selectors. Though, fortunately India got a perfect replacement in the form of another Delhiite – Shikhar Dhawan unluckily the old warhorses are still struggling with their form. Southpaw (Dhawan) has been performing outstandingly well ever since he took the charge to open the Indian innings in all formats of the game and never gave his skipper and selectors a chance to even consider the comeback of the senior Delhiites.

Comeback of these two openers - Gambhir and Sehwag, now depends on two conditions. First, they have to perform consistently in domestic cricket. Secondly, how well or poorly the newly paired openers – Dhawan and Rohit Sharma will perform in the near future. Dhawan, though, is in sublime form but Rohit Sharma is still patchy and his inconsistent form might open a slot in the top order.

Gambhir recently joined Essex club to play County cricket, which has helped many cricketers in the past to make their comeback in the national teams. But so far in four innings, the left-hander hasn’t performed well.

Yuvraj Singh is another out of favour player. Though, the stroke maker has already won the biggest battle of his life -- by defeating cancer -- but to make a comeback in the national team, considering his health and fitness won’t be that easy. Albeit, as we all know that he is a real fighter and surprised many by his fighting instincts – be it on or off-the-field. So, it’s almost impossible to write him off. The only concern with him was of his fitness as no one can doubt his calibre as a cricketer. And to make a comeback, he went to France to attend a six-week fitness camp under the guidance of world renowned fitness expert, along with Zaheer Khan. He has achieved many accolades and records while representing the country -- be it the Man of the Series in the 2011 World Cup or hitting six sixes against Stuart Broad in T20 World Cup. His all-round skills, certainly give him an added advantage, but to break into the team, he has to give more than 100 per cent.

After the retirement of frontline fast bowler Javagal Srinath, the only bowler who effectively managed to fill the void space is undoubtedly Zaheer Khan. He played a crucial role all these years by spearheading the Indian bowling line-up. From moving the new ball both ways with good control, to reverse swinging the old one, to use slower one with good effect, his versatility made him one of the best fast bowlers in contemporary cricket. But right through his illustrious career, Zaheer has been plagued with injuries which forced him to miss matches at regular intervals. And injuries at regular intervals have always pushed him back. It was never his form, it was always his injury and fitness concern that gave him tough times in the past.

Zaheer’s talent and contribution was such that once MS Dhoni stated that he is the Sachin Tendulkar of bowling. And even the best swing bowler in contemporary cricket Jimmy Anderson admitted that he picked a few tricks from Zaheer.

Zaheer knows that fitness is a major hurdle for him as he himself recently said, ‘My fitness has let me down and I have been working on it’. And after his successful fitness sojourn in France, now he will leave for South Africa to get back into proper shape. Zaheer Khan’s comeback will only strengthen the Indian bowling. And his rich experience can also help the young fast bowlers to further enhance their skills. So Zaheer has to work on his fitness as he has enough tricks up his sleeves to get back into the India fold.

Harbhajan Singh, the ‘turbanator’ is also in the list of dejected seniors. Dip in Bhajji’s form and the sudden rise of R Ashwin in all forms of the game, gradually gave selectors a reason to keep him out of the team. For Harbhajan, who is the highest wicket taking spinner for India in Test’s (413) after Anil Kumble (619), it would be a hard nut to crack to make a place in the national team. Apart from Ashwin, Dhoni also has Ravindra Jadeja in the team, who has made his reputation as a breakthrough bowler. The other options to exploit for the skipper are of Pragyan Ojha, Piyush Chawla and Amit Mishra. So, Bhajji has to come up with something outstanding in the domestic leagues to get into MSDs playing X1.

All these five players have played a crucial role in India’s success in recent times - from taking them to the top in Test rankings, to winning the World Cup in both the limited over formats -- T-20 World Cup in 2007 and ODI World Cup in 2011. Their best days are behind them and now they have to come up with something really special to make a place for themselves, which might not be impossible, but it wouldn’t be easy either. As they say - ‘Form is temporary and class is permanent’, although this time around it would be the form that would give them a chance to get back into the international circuit to show their class.