Sehwag return will boost India

Former players believe Virender Sehwag will steady India's sinking ship while Pragyan Ojha reflects on surprise call-up.

    Sehwag (second right) celebrates with teammates after winning World Cup final in April [GALLO/GETTY] 

    Former India players are united in their belief that Virender Sehwag's return from injury will stabilise the team's fragile batting order and lift morale in the remaining two Tests against a dominant England.

    The dashing opener has been sidelined since undergoing shoulder surgery in May, keeping the 32-year-old out of the tour of the West Indies and India's first two Tests against England.

    India, 2-0 down in the four-match series, have looked nothing like the world's number one-ranked team in the Lord's and Trent Bridge tests but that could change with the return of the explosive right-hander, according to Anshuman Gaekwad.

    "It is almost going to be like a new series. To have Sehwag and (Gautam) Gambhir back... It will give a lot of confidence to the team," the former India international and coach told Reuters.

    "It is almost going to be like a new series. To have Sehwag and (Gautam) Gambhir back... It will give a lot of confidence to the team"

    Anshuman Gaekwad

    Sehwag's opening partner Gambhir injured his elbow while fielding at Lord's and missed the 319-run defeat at Trent Bridge but is likely to return to the starting lineup for the third Test beginning on August 10 at Edgbaston in Birmingham.

    The injuries to the top order forced India to tinker with the batting lineup, placing Rahul Dravid in a makeshift opener's role and Vangipurappu Laxman up the order at number three.

    "In a Test match, it is of utmost necessity to have a good start. Their return will be a big relief for the captain and the team," emphasised the former India opener, who played 40 Test matches from 1975-85.

    Sehwag has 22 hundreds in 87 Test appearances but it his strike rate of almost 82 runs per 100 deliveries that make him one of the most intimidating batsmen in cricket.

    Former captain Ajit Wadekar said Sehwag's return would ease the pressure on India's "Big Three" - Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar and Laxman.

    "Sehwag coming back itself is enough to boost the morale of the team. We never had a solid opening partnership in the series," Wadekar, the former chief of national selectors, said by phone.

    "If our openers do their bit, batsmen down the order will start gaining in confidence."

    Spinning back

    Injury to Harbhajan Singh in the second Test has opened the door to a spinner who wasn't expected to feature in the current series.

    Left-arm spinner Pragyan Ojha is keen to capitalise on a second bite of the cherry after landing a surprise call-up to an India squad he was originally omitted from for the ongoing tour of England.

    The Hyderabad spinner watched from the pavilion on India's June tour of the Caribbean as leg-spinner Amit Mishra was selected ahead of him, and Ojha dropped further down the pecking order when only two slow bowlers were picked for the England series.

    However, Ojha recently signed a contract with English county Surrey and was practising with his Ranji Trophy team mates in Hyderabad when spin spearhead Harbhajan Singh's injury provided an opportunity the 24-year-old is keen to seize with both hands.

    "I was already practicing for my Surrey stint and would have left (for England) in a week's time. This surprise India call-up means I would be leaving earlier than planned," the spinner told Reuters in a telephone interview.

    "At a time when there is no cricket being played (in India), all I could do was to practice hard and keep myself fit.

    "I can't change what happened in the West Indies but what I can do now is give my best in England."

    Once again, Ojha will vie with Mishra for a place in the starting side for the remaining two Tests, which has been dominated by the pacemen and offered little to the slow bowlers on either side.

    As England ran riot to open a 2-0 series lead with a pair of big wins, Harbhajan bagged just one wicket at the Lord's Test and one more at Trent Bridge before he was ruled out of the remainder of the series with an abdominal muscle strain.

          Ojha is delighted to be called up to Indian team despite challenges that awaits [GALLO/GETTY] 

    His English counterpart Graeme Swann fared little better, managing two wickets at Lord's before toiling without success at Trent Bridge, where his frustration got the better of him as he incurred an official reprimand after angrily kicking the stumps.

    Ojha is under no illusions about the challenges that await him in England.

    "While it's a great opportunity for me, it's equally a challenge," said the spinner, who played the last of his 11
    Tests against New Zealand in November 2010.

    "It's a great responsibility, especially when England are doing so well. Spinners from both sides struggled in both tests, which suggests conditions are not easy for the slow bowlers.

    "From what I saw, I think patience and consistency would be key there. Once I reach England, I would talk to my team mates and analyse the conditions."

    Ojha revealed former India captain Anil Kumble had correctly predicted his surprise call-up earlier this week.

    "Anil helped me get the Surrey contract. He was telling me the other day to stay positive and practise hard. 'You are not in the team but you never know, you may get an unexpected call to join them in England'.

    "I could not believe it when I actually got the call to join the team. I immediately rang up Anil and informed him that his prediction has come true," said the spinner, who is yet to experience Test match conditions outside the sub-continent.

    The drive of a player who has recently been overlooked is just what India need if they are to fightback in this series.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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