Whereas Sachin Tendulkar’s farewell series has been made as grand as possible, his three other contemporaries are likely to bow out unsung. For, the Indian Cricket Board (BCCI) made it further clear of their views on the discarded trio--Virender Sehwag, Zaheer Khan and Harbhajan Singh--as they were stripped of their central contract on Thursday. With their age creeping up and youngsters phasing them out, it was a forthright clarification that Team India doesn’t need them any longer.
All three had clearly aired their hopes of returning to the national fold. Injury-plagued Zaheer, during the off-season, had undertaken a fitness pilgrimage to the Southern France commune, Brive-la-Gallarde, and trained hectically under fitness guru Tim Exeter.
Rejuvenated and sharp, the 35-year-old was drafted into the India A side for the unofficial Test series against their West Indies counterparts.
He bowled 64.5 overs and snared seven wickets, four of those coming in the last innings of the final Test. “He wasn’t at his best, as obviously players coming from long injury breaks tend to be. But he was gradually peaking, like in the last game he found reverse swing and bowled potently,” observed Lalchand Rajput, India’s coach during the series.
More signs of him defying his age and body manifested in Rohtak, wherein on a conducive track, he ran through Haryana in the second innings. Taking into account all these, Zaheer seems to have got a raw deal. “He could have given a lifeline, more so we are touring South Africa and New Zealand. True we have a bunch of upcoming seamers, but his experience would have been very useful. They need a leader and Zaheer would have easily fitted into it,” he said.
The selectors, of late, had invested hugely on youngsters, and this was a further validation of their faith. With Mohammed Shami, Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Jaydev Unadkat and Umesh Yadav around, they might have reckoned Zaheer redundant in all three formats.
Ditto with Sehwag (35) and Harbhajan. Like Zaheer, Sehwag too featured in the unofficial series, hut hardly made an impact (45 runs in two innings). He made only one and 15 in the Ranji fixture against Gujarat. Ironically, he batted in the middle order in all these innings, a retrograde move on hindsight.
If he had harboured any hope of staking his spot in the middle order, that has magnificently backfired. With Rohit Sharma making his Test debut grand, and Ajinkya Rahane waiting in the wings, it’s unlikely that the under-whelming Sehwag would be considered for a middle order slot.
Of the three, 33-year-old Harbhajan is the youngest and has reeled off his domestic season with a hint of purpose, whittling out 17 wickets in two matches. But Ravichandran Ashwin, Ravindra Jadeja and Pragyan Ojha having cemented the places and Amit Mishra in hot pursuit, Harbhajan’s comeback route is thorny.
So reckons former skipper Bishen Singh Bedi. “Presently, I don’t think there is any room for him in the team. Ashwin, Ojha and Jadeja are all doing well and he is no longer in the scheme. It’s going to be tough for him to make a comeback.”
On the sidelines, Yuvraj Singh and Gautam Gambhir too were downgraded as they were handed out only grade B contract.