Open season for India as Virender Sehwag's poor run continues

Selectors will likely consider alternatives at the top of the batting order in Tests.

Virender Sehwag should move down the order as his recent form as an opener is poor. Rajanish Kakade / AP Photo
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At the end of India's tour of South Africa in 2010/11, Virender Sehwag averaged 53.43, with 22 centuries from just 87 Tests.

Those were numbers comparable to or better than the greatest opening batsmen of any era.

In 17 Tests since, he averages 29.73 with just one hundred. His career average has dropped below 50, and the three innings he has played with spectacles against Australia have produced just 27 runs.

When Indian cricket was at its strongest, the most formidable thing about the side was an opening partnership with the ability to take the game away in a couple of sessions.

Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir did not just average above 50 as a pair, they also scored at a pace unmatched in the game's history.

The downturn in their fortunes coincided with India's slide down the rankings. Despite getting several starts in the series against England, Gambhir was dropped after failing to build an innings of real substance. Sehwag survived on account of his hundred in Ahmedabad.

The man who replaced Gambhir, Murali Vijay, was distinctly fortunate to be in the XI in the first place. His previous 10 Test innings before Hyderabad had realised just 116 runs, and his selection owed much to two Irani Cup hundreds for Rest of India, one against a mediocre Rajasthan attack and the other against an understrength Mumbai one.

In five Ranji Trophy matches for Tamil Nadu, he averaged 17.

Vijay's initially stodgy but then fluent hundred in Hyderabad today against Australia has queered the pitch ahead of a most testing period for Indian cricket.

After this series against Australia, all of India's major assignments in Test cricket for the next two seasons are overseas. There is a tour of South Africa at the end of the year, a date with Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Morne Morkel that no batsman is likely to relish.

Then comes New Zealand, and conditions where Indian batsmen have seldom thrived.

In the summer of 2014, there are five Tests in England for the Pataudi Trophy, and later in the year, they journey to Australia hoping to improve on the 4-0 drubbing handed to them a year ago.

Without a solid opening combination, it is hard to see India getting anything out of those tours.

It is also unrealistic to expect anything special from Sehwag, who has scored only five of his hundreds outside Asia. As the eyes go, and reflexes slow down, it is easy to see him moving down the order, perhaps to No 6, where his natural stroke-making ability could be devastating against the old and soft ball.

Vijay may just have sealed a place in the squad for now, but that says more about the lack of options.

Wasim Jaffer, who once scored a century at Newlands in South Africa (2007), is considered too old at 35, while Ajinkya Rahane, who averages more than 60 in first-class cricket, is being viewed as a middle-order option.

Delhi's Unmukt Chand is not yet ready, and the suspicion remains that Shikhar Dhawan, his teammate, has a technique too loose to handle the moving ball.

For a country that prided itself on the technical excellence of Vijay Merchant and Sunil Gavaskar, and the exhilarating crescendo of Sehwag's batting, it is an unenviable situation to be in.

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