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Mon, 16 Sep 2013 16:30:00 GMT | By Harsha Bhogle

Four for the taking

Four warriors, fighting back age, reflexes, exclusion and the inevitable but relentless march of a new generation, will provide a fascinating glimpse into their character in the next four weeks.

Four for the taking

They have been very successful but that was in the past and such is the fight for places that their challengers have already emerged. Even though they may not want to see it that way, it is a good sign for Indian cricket.

But each of the four, Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Yuvraj Singh has pedigree in abundance and you only wave that a final goodbye once you are convinced that it has finished everything it has to offer. By leaving them out, the selectors said they expected more but by picking them for the India ‘A’ games, they have shown they can be fair. It is a fine selection by a group that is showing both intent and faith.

You could of course argue that the Champions League took away a lot of the younger challengers and that otherwise there might have been no rehabilitation. But it doesn’t matter where the opportunity comes from and if I was a young, fringe player for India, I would be keeping a very close eye on how these stars are doing. When you have the deeds that these four have behind them, you no longer test their ability, you test fitness, form and things like those that are carriers of ability. And so, in one of those delightful twists in life, not qualifying for the Champions League might be a blessing in disguise. As would be the strange sequence of events that has led to a delayed tour of South Africa. I wonder if there is another part of the cricket world where the landscape changes as rapidly!

Without trivialising the efforts of the other three, I believe more eyes will need to be on Zaheer Khan than on them. I suspect, in his last ten matches where his returns have done his ability a disservice, his body has been a limitation. Fast bowling is an unnatural activity for the human body and needs everything to be synchronised to propel you to the crease. Clearly that wasn’t the case with Zaheer and that is why fans should be delighted at the effort to regain fitness first. At 35, he is unlikely to be looking beyond the next eighteen months or indeed, to be looking at going much beyond 135kmph. But the next eighteen months also have visits to South Africa, New Zealand, England and Australia where India will play three seamers. If he is fit and in rhythm, he is one of those three. And so the selectors will be looking at his fitness more than anything else. They need to be convinced that he can give them those eighteen months because a shorter term return is no good for anyone.

So too with Yuvraj Singh where a clear decision on what kind of cricket he plays seems to have been taken. By not looking at him for the four day games Yuvraj has been told his future lies in the shorter game and that may not be bad for him. When Yuvraj returned after his inspiring battle against cancer, it was clear that while his ability had not been compromised his fitness was. It was, in a sense, inevitable for his body had withstood so much. Now he has had a little more time and has come through a fairly strenuous regimen. And his slot in the one day team, like Zaheer’s in Test cricket, hasn’t yet been conclusively taken. Yes, Jadeja has arrived but he isn’t yet batting in the top five and so isn’t yet a like for like replacement. There is still room for both but fitness, and thereafter form, will be the test. And the schedule is pretty good for him with the India ‘A’ and the Challenger matches just before the one day games against Australia. With seven of those he must fancy slipping in at some point.

Probably the most difficult battle back is for the greatest match winner of the four. Virender Sehwag is only two weeks younger than Zaheer Khan and while it is true that batting offers greater longevity than fast bowling, he needs to convince the selectors that his skills haven’t diminished and that his ambition is as fierce as it once was. Murali Vijay got two big hundreds against Australia but has yet to convince everyone that he is the man to open overseas. Consistency hasn’t been his strongest ally either and that might suggest a window of opportunity for Sehwag. But Shikhar Dhawan has arrived in dramatic style and the selectors might be tempted at making a longer term investment than the short term returns that Sehwag might offer. What fun though if he tees off against the inexperienced, and maybe less able, bowling from West Indies ‘A’.

Of the four Gautam Gambhir is probably the only one who has time on his side. At 31, not a lot, but it is an age where you are still looking ahead. In spite of some good years, he hasn’t quite created a lasting legacy in Test cricket and has given the impression that he has had too much on his mind. Gambhir needs to hammer the door down now, not merely knock on it. His numbers are still very impressive, he has shown the ability to deliver on the big day but I’ll be interested in seeing if he wins the battle with himself.

These four are one end of the choice spectrum for the selectors. At the other are a set of players who have done fairly well on the ‘A’ tours. While having options is good for the selectors, having too many may not be easy. The selectors have been excellent so far, now they must make strategic decisions.

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