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Why has Indian cricket forgotten Virender Sehwag, asks Tharoor

‘Captains are products of the culture and the times they live in’
EXCLUSIVE
Shashi Tharoor

London: Former Union minister Shashi Tharoor and his sons, Ishaan and Kanishk, were among the thousands of Team India fans who’d been at The Oval hoping for a respect-salvaging performance which never happened.

On Monday morning, Tharoor (former under-secretary general of the UN and a cricket aficionado), spoke to The Telegraph for around 30 minutes.

Excerpts...

Q You ended up watching three of the worst days for Indian cricket... Did you feel cheated at The Oval?

A It was awful. When my sons and I planned the trip, last month, India were up 1-0... We thought that even if England made a comeback, India would have the upper hand. We kept following the humiliation in Southampton and in Manchester and arrived here in a somewhat negative and concerned frame of mind... Still, we weren’t prepared for what happened. We’d refused to believe that batsmen of the calibre of Cheteshwar Pujara and (vice-captain) Virat Kohli could fail yet again. Admittedly, we batted in some tough conditions weather-wise, but how can players not learn from mistakes?

What has upset you the most?

That our losses got progressively worse. I know of teams getting better, but our boys went from bad to worse. One team clawed back with confidence, the other disintegrated.

A month ago, we were right on top, powered by an incredible win at Lord’s. What, in your view, went wrong?

It’s hard to put a finger on one reason... Such defeats can’t, in any case, be explained by one reason... We can’t say that we play too much cricket, for we certainly don’t play too much Test cricket... I’m not one to blame the IPL. Most of the batsmen got out to defensive shots, not aggressive hits, so one can’t blame T20... The batting just wasn’t up to it. Another reason that comes to mind is the quality of our fielding. We put down more catches (in slips) than we held! In every position, England’s fielders did better... England, I must say, raised their game and James Anderson sent down one inspired spell after another. The line he and Stuart Broad bowled, after Lord’s, was outstanding.

Mike Brearley told me that it’s a mystery how India crumbled...

Mystery or whatever, I’ve been baffled and the batsmen were baffled too! We lacked application and England hardly bowled a bad ball after Lord’s. You need the bowlers to land in the right areas. We have to learn from Anderson’s persistence and accuracy.

Turning point...

When Alastair Cook was dropped (on 15, by Ravindra Jadeja, off Pankaj Singh) in Southampton... That stands out as a game-changer. Had that catch been taken, anything could have happened.

How would you explain the repeated failures of both Pujara and Kohli?

Kohli, I believe, has just lost form. Remember, he didn’t get runs in the IPL either. He’ll come out of this slump... For Pujara, it’s going to be a test of character. He needs to spend a colossal amount of time with a coach, studying the video recordings. I was among the first to see him as the next Rahul Dravid, but his consistency has gone... Today, he has issues to address.

End of the Test road for Gautam Gambhir?

I know Gambhir personally and I like him, but his performance in the series was embarrassing... Yes, I think it’s the end of his Test career... The selectors recalled Gambhir, but why has Indian cricket forgotten Virender Sehwag? No Indian cricketer has given more joy, after Sachin Tendulkar, than Sehwag... Why has he not been given a farewell series or a farewell Test? We need to treat our only triple centurion (in Test cricket) better... I hope the selectors bring him back, probably for the series in Australia, where he has done well.

[Sehwag’s last appearance for India, in any format, was in March 2013.]

MoS Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Varun Aaron did give us something to cheer about, didn’t they?

Of course. But Aaron can’t lose pace, his USP. At The Oval, he was our best bowler on the second day, when he was around 90 mph. Next morning, however, his speed dropped by 5 mph and he was sent to all corners of the park by Joe Root and Broad. He’d had a night’s rest, so I found that loss of energy inexplicable.

What did you make of Mahendra Singh Dhoni the captain?

At times, I admire Dhoni’s originality, creativity and flair. But some of his decisions, with regard to field placements and bowling changes, are baffling... Sure, there’s subjectivity involved in captaincy and different captains are liable to think differently, but the decisions should be logical. There have been times when I’ve felt that Dhoni has gone too much by instinct and not with rational thinking.

To talk of top-bracket India captains, where does Dhoni stand?

Tactically, Tiger Pataudi was the best, but he didn’t have the quality of players Dhoni has had... Sourav Ganguly and Kapil Dev were inspirational... Mohammed Azharuddin, underrated as captain, liked leading by example... There was also Sunil Gavaskar, the sole indispensable player in his side... All of them rank above Dhoni, even though the statistics show him as more successful, having played more matches with better players under him.

Who makes a good captain?

Ideally, such a captain should have the qualities I’ve talked about. Graeme Smith and Allan Border had those qualities. I’d mention Brearley as well, but he didn’t have the ability to lead by example. To an extent, captains are products of the culture and the times they live in.

Your advice to Dhoni?

Not to Dhoni, but to the Board... Don’t forget this huge setback to the rebuilding process, have a serious introspection... Allow young players to gain experience in County cricket instead of barring them.

Finally... Shouldn’t coach Duncan Fletcher he held accountable for a series of disasters overseas?

Definitely, I’m for accountability. Fletcher had been the coach in 2011 as well so, obviously, no lessons have been learnt.