The last couple of weeks have been surreal. The world is still coming to grips with the fact that one of the most promising young cricketers of this era is no longer among us. After what seemed like eternal numbness, cricketers are pledging to move on. Hughes’ funeral, which saw an outpouring of emotions, also helped create a closure (at least at the physical level) of sorts.
A day later, the BCCI announced the 30-man probables list for the 2015 World Cup, overflowing with youngsters, effectively ringing the career death-knell for five heroes of the 2011 triumph – Yuvraj Singh, Virendar Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Harbhajan Singh and Zaheer Khan. Barring a miracle (read: major injuries among the set of 30), World Cup 2015 is over for them, as are perhaps their careers.
There have been two distinct sets of reactions – an outpouring of grief among respective fans, who have flocked to various social media channels to express their displeasure. On the other hand, gurus of the game have endorsed the pragmatism behind the omission, pointing out the quintet’s deplorable stats of late.
This article looks to reconcile the two, or at least present it, via a quadrant analysis.
Readers acquainted with usual quadrant methodologies would know that the top-right is the place to be. But given that we are comparing both batsmen and bowlers on a common graph, I tweaked that a bit.
X-Axis: The horizontal axis measures fan-sentiment with respect to the players in concern. ‘Measures’ may not be the best terminology here, as this is essentially subjective, based on the vociferousness of the recalls for these cricketers, across social media as well as traditional channels, in recent times. While the negative axis is just for aesthetic appeal, it is anyone’s guess that all these players will be in the positive on this parameter, i.e. to the right of the Y-axis.
Y-Axis: The vertical axis plots the batting averages for Yuvraj, Sehwag and Gambhir, and the bowling averages for Harbhajan and Zaheer in List A cricket from the 2012-13 season till date. The median is considered at 30, which, according to me is the minimum acceptable limit for both batsmen and bowlers.
Therefore, the place to be is the top right for batsmen, and bottom right for bowlers.
Now let us have a look at the individual performers from both perspectives. I will rank them in order of deservedness in ascending order, from the least deserving to the most. Bear in mind that it is ‘relative’ analysis, and the most deserving in a relative context may not be in an absolute one.
#5. Zaheer Khan
Zaheer Khan has been one of my favourite cricketers over the years. Ever since the guy, reminiscent of a left-handed Imran Khan due to his exaggerated delivery jump, burst onto the international scene during the ICC Mini World Cup in Nairobi at the turn of the century, with those 140kmph+ yorkers. I forgave him for the first over in the 2003 WC final. I rejoiced as he evolved into an excellent Test bowler in the latter half of the decade, architecting a few memorable away wins (did someone say jellybean?) while mentoring a surprisingly large pack of quicks, a pleasant luxury to have in a sub-continental country not called Pakistan. I did not expect him to succeed in 2011, but he proved me wrong, emerging as the joint highest wicket-taker in the tournament. Looking back, Zaheer has always raised his game when playing in a World Cup.
For all the adulation, I cannot bury my head in the sand and demand for his inclusion in the WC 2015 squad. The man has not played List A cricket since the Sri Lankan tour in 2012, when he was carted around the park, his 4 wickets costing 57 apiece.
Even if I look at his recent First Class performances, in Tests against South Africa and New Zealand, his wickets came at an average of 40+.
He has not played in any domestic tournament of note this year. How exactly can he be considered?
Yet, there is a huge clamor for his inclusion in social channels, which is why I have given him a ‘4’ score on Sentiment. I tried to assign the slightest thread of logic to this sentiment, but failed miserably.
#4. Harbhajan Singh
Harhajan Singh has never really set the ODI stage on fire, except perhaps the 2001-02 season, where, buoyed by a successful Test series against Australia, he picked up 29 wickets at a sub-20 average.
He is the only member of this quintet who is a step behind the other four, in the context of being a 2011 WC hero. Being a member of a WC winning squad definitely makes him a hero at some level, but his abysmal performance in the tournament – 9 wickets at 43 apiece, may have derailed India’s dream, had Yuvraj not stepped up with 15 wickets, which effectively masked the Turbanator’s failure.
Harbhajan continues to walk the thin line between mediocrity and poor in List A cricket, having picked up just 18 wickets at nearly 40 apiece in the past two years. His average in the current season is worse, being just 2 short of a half-century.
Even his 2011 WC inclusion was a semi-emotional one. Selectors were not likely to commit the same error twice.
Thankfully, not too many are protesting.
#3. Virender Sehwag
Let’s face it. Virender Sehwag’s credentials in ODI cricket are nowhere close to the awesomeness he exuded when playing the longest format of the game. A 15-run dip in batting average bears testimony to that. However, he did have a great 2011 WC, even though nearly half his tournament total of 380 runs came in the opening fixture against Bangladesh. While I am not belittling the Bangla tigers in their own den, it does mean that the Sehwag made just 200 more in his remaining 7 innings at a sub-30 average – nothing to write home about.
Sehwag’s career is a paradox in itself; with a game-play tailor made for ODI cricket, the Nawab of Najafgarh kept shocking pundits with an uncanny consistency in whites. They kept extolling the virtues of footwork while he became a living case-study on hand-eye coordination.
Alas, good things don’t last forever. Over the past couple of years, the reflexes have slowed, even against domestic bowlers, and the happy hand-eye marriage looked on the rocks.
In 13 List A matches since the 2012-13 season, Sehwag has scored 263 runs at an average of 20. This season, he made just 131 in 6 innings; it includes a Sehwag-of-old 68-ball 80 blitzkrieg against Haryana during the Vijay Hazare trophy. Simple math will tell you how he fared in the remaining five.
Sehwag has an equally, if not more, compelling fan-following, who were roused even more by the disclosure, a couple of days before the release of the probables list, of the man’s ‘hope’ of being selected for the 2015 WC.
It would have taken a very brave group of selectors to include him; thankfully, sanity prevailed.
#2. Gautam Gambhir
Shak Rukh Khan is a marketing genius. Say what you will about his movies, but he knows a thing or two about ROIs. Which is why, when he spent a whopping $2 million on acquiring Gautam Gambhir for his team KKR in early 2011, it made perfect marketing sense to include within one’s fold the future captain of India.
Gambhir was probably at his peak, and with the 0-8 thrashing just around the corner, the move appeared to be the right one, even in myopic hindsight. However, Dhoni held on, and Gambhir’s own form slipped, at least at the national level. He did lead KKR to 2 titles in 3 years – no mean achievement for a team languishing towards the bottom during inaugural editions of the IPL. But taking into account his diminishing stock as a cricketer beyond the franchise, the ROI may not have been as expected in this case.
Looking at recent List A stats, Gambhir has not fared much better than Sehwag; 684 runs in 30 innings at an average of 24 since the 2012-13 season. Coincidentally, both Gambhir and Sehwag tasted success together this season. Gambhir made 93 in the same match against Haryana, who must be wondering what insipid magic their bowling conjured up to revive not one, but two out-of-form players.
Unfortunately, like Sehwag, it was his only innings of significance this List A season. Since his sparkling 167 for North Zone during the Duleep Trophy semi-final went unnoticed during team selection for the Australian Test series, it is likely to have been equally invisible when selectors went about their first level inclusions for the WC.
Fans are not overtly vociferous for Gambhir’s inclusion – I completely respect and endorse their views.
#1. Yuvraj Singh
To cut a long story short, Yuvraj Singh was the biggest hero of the 2011 triumph, a title accentuated to the nth degree in light of the deadly disease he was carrying within at that time.
From being dismissed as talentless by his father’s friend Navjot Singh Siddhu, to being subject to a rigorous training program which often bordered on torturous, Yuvraj’s childhood was anything but a bed of roses.
He was introduced to success early in life, and like the protagonist of a clichéd movie script, quickly descended into the furnaces of failure before emerging like a phoenix for a great victory.
Unfortunately, life differs from movies in continuing even after the climax, and when that happens, anti-climaxes are not far behind, as is the case now.
In case you glance over at the quadrant, you may notice that Yuvraj is the only one who scrapes into the ‘acceptable’ zone. While only his batting credentials are considered in the quadrant, he continues to be a useful change bowler with the happy knack of picking up wickets. All this, with a significantly weakened body and mind, with the latter only fueled by the exuberance of playing again for the nation.
Yuvraj commands a huge fan following, yours truly included, driven by the superhuman grit he showed in first holding off the Big C to lead India to their best moment in nearly 30 years, and then defeating it to return to active cricket in surprisingly quick time.
As I said at the onset, being the best among the quintet may not warranty safe passage. Yuvraj continues to be the best among them. However, the numbers are not enough. A couple of big scores this domestic season may have turned the tide in his favor. But it was not to be.
From an emotional viewpoint, Yuvraj’s omission is unfortunate. From a pragmatic POV, there is no justifying his inclusion.
- It is absurd to consider inclusion of a man who has not played any List A cricket for the past 3 years, and has limited match practice across other formats as well. Zaheer’s exclusion was a definite no-brainer.
- Its high time we stop over-crediting Harbhajan as a key architect of the 2011 WC win, though his mere presence in the WC winning squad immortalizes him as a hero in cricket annals. However, he has had a relatively lackluster ODI career, and continues to be mediocre in recent List A performances.
- Gambhir and Sehwag follow a similar pattern to each other. They have very few runs under their belt, with both their season-best performances coming in the same game.
- Yuvraj is the only one among the quintet to scramble into the ‘Acceptable’ zone of quadrant analysis. However, recent numbers are just not good enough for selection.
While many have complained about the selectors’ ‘callousness’, others have hailed the move as brave.
As for me, I am absolutely convinced about one thing. The decision wasn’t a brave one by the selectors. Given the performances of the Outgoing-5 in recent times, it was the ONLY one possible.