Game is all but over

Written by Shamik Chakrabarty | Shamik Chakrabarty | Updated: Jun 2 2014, 04:01am hrs
This column comes with a touch of sadness, because its always tough to say adios to special players. Zaheer Khan, Virender Sehwag, Yuvraj Singh and Harbhajan Singh have been champions in their own right. They have given us so much joy over the years. But maybe its time to write their swan song.

Zaheer Khan first. By omitting him from the 18-member squad for the upcoming five Tests in England, the national selectors have given a message that they want to roll over the old and usher in the new.

Fitness has always been an issue with Zaheer since he limped out of Lords, clutching his hamstring, three years ago. The latest setback came during this IPL, when he injured his shoulder and was ruled out of the tournament after six matches. But the report from the medical room was positive and it predicted full recovery before Indias first Test at Trent Bridge from July 9. But the selectors were unsure. Also, after two mediocre series in South Africa and New Zealand last winter, they wanted to look beyond the 35-year-old.

Zaheer left no stone unturned to revive his career after he was dropped following a poor home series against England in 2012-13. He went to Brive La Gaillarde, France to train under Tim Exetera high performance physical trainer.

The left-arm quick came back leaner and fitter but the old zip was

still missing. He failed to provide breakthroughs during crucial

periods in South Africa and

New Zealand.

Zaheer rather looked haggard after every bowling spell. And its unlikely that hes going to get another opportunity to add to his tally of 311 wickets in 92 Tests and 282 scalps in 200 one-day internationals (ODIs). Very few Indian fast bowler came with his skill-set.

Virender Sehwag last played for India in Test cricket in March 2013. He had already been living on borrowed time and after only 27 runs in the first two Tests in the home series against Australia, came the chop. Ranji Trophy provided him with a platform to resurrect his career, but Sehwag failed miserably with only 234 runs in seven matches at an average of 19.50. Its very significant that he wasnt even considered for the England tour as Gautam Gambhir was recalled to fill the slot for the reserve opener.

Sehwag, too, is 35 and past his prime. So maybe its time to say goodbye. Its sad that someone who redefined the openers role in Test cricket is going out with a whimper. A tally of 8,586 runs in 104 Tests at 49.34 (two triple tons) and another 8,273 runs in 251 ODIs at 35.05 (highest score 219) speak volumes of his class. He has been a giantone of Indias greatest ever match-winners. But Father Time spares none.

The team selection for the three-Test home series against Australia in 2001 was interesting. With Anil Kumble ruled out owing to an injury, the then selection committee wanted Sarandeep Singh to lead the spin attack. But captain Sourav Ganguly put his foot down and ensured that Harbhajan Singh got the nod. The rest is history.

VVS Laxman played his epic 281 at Eden Gardens to lead the revival of Indian cricket. His innings laid the foundation of Indias greatest ever Test victory, but there was a huge match-winning contribution from Harbhajan as well with his hat-trick in the first innings and important wickets in the second. He returned with the match figures of 13/196. He ended up taking 32 wickets in that series. It was the emergence of the Turbanator. Harbhajan went on to take 413 Test wickets and 259 ODI scalps before his career came to an abrupt halt. He played his last Test 15 months ago, in Hyderabad, against Australia.

And the last time he played for India in an ODI was in June 2011. The omission from the reserve team for the tour of Bangladesh indicates the end of a fabulous career.

Harbhajan is 33 but still fighting fit. He has bowled very economically (economy rate 6.47) in this IPL for his 14 wickets. But by preferring Parvez Rasool over him, the selectors have backed the youth. Only a truckload of wickets in domestic cricket can bring Harbhajan back in contention. It would be interesting to see how he responds to the challenge.

India have had very few game-changers like Yuvraj Singh in limited-overs cricket (8,329 runs in 292 ODIs at a strike-rate of 86.97). The southpaw is a winner, both in cricket and life. Surviving a lung cancer and coming back to play for India again is heroic.

Every cricket fan will always have a soft corner for Yuvraj, but the harsh truth is that he has become a spent force on the field. The slide started during the home ODI series against Australia last year, while the lowest point was reached in the World T20 final against Sri Lanka in April. His 21-ball 11 destroyed Indias chances. And now Kedar Jadhavs selection for the Bangladesh tour probably marks the end of Yuvrajs international career. Unless the Jadhavs and the Tiwarys fail miserably, hes not going to be picked for the next years World Cup.

A golden generation is silently being phased out as Indian cricket is getting ready to welcome the youngsters. Heart says, the old masters still can bounce back. But head says, its all but over.