There's an old Bengali saying that even a dead elephant is worth a lakh of rupees (coined when 'a lakh' was a monumental sum). In Satyajit Ray's 1966 film Nayak, there's a neat distortion of the adage, where a once-powerful actor, unable to wrangle a role in a film, asks the new matinee idol, "Is the saying about the dead elephant a lie then?"
In the context of Indian cricket, players of elephantine proportions probably ask themselves that same question as they fade away.
Take Virender Sehwag, for instance. I have written before that Sehwag, as well as Gautam Gambhir, need a break from international cricket – all formats. I thought it should have happened much earlier, giving a chance to Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan, even Abhinav Mukund and whoever else is in the fray – maybe even Wasim Jaffer – at home before the spate of foreign tours start later this year. That didn't happen. But now, thankfully, the decision has come.
There's been some talk, here and there, of Sehwag being a possible No. 6 when India go to South Africa. I am not a big fan of the theory. When Sehwag was shifted from the middle order to the top, it was because the team management felt he was too good to be left out of the playing XI. A place had to be found for him, created if necessary. Now, based on form alone, he doesn't deserve to be in the Indian Test XI. Pushing him to No. 6 would be, to my mind, a step back.
Elsewhere, out on social media – at once a brilliant forum for exchange of thoughts and ideas, and a playground for the flippant and the crass – Sehwag has been the target of a fair bit of name-calling. There have been a fair few jokes about his abilities, his attitude, his waistline and his new specs, not to mention snide remarks about his priorities.
Come on, we are talking about the only Indian to score two triple centuries in Tests, the man with the highest individual score in a One-Day International, a man who averaged 62.5 in first innings for his team over the past 12 years. The youngest member of India's golden generation, but by no means a lesser contributor to India's success through the 2000s than the others. Not to forget, a man widely credited with redefining modern-day opening batsmanship. In a batting line-up of stalwarts, the man who created the time needed for wins to be fashioned, especially in Test matches.
Yes, he needed to be dropped. Like Gambhir has been. And like, I still feel, Sachin Tendulkar ought to be. But neither does that make Sehwag a lesser man, nor does it mean that he wants to fail. And it is ridiculous to suggest that – as I have read on Twitter – he has been performing badly on purpose so that Dhoni (his sworn enemy, according to popular perception) fails as captain. He's been failing because he is in the middle of a prolonged stretch of bad form. Maybe he can bounce back. Maybe he can't.
The discourse on sport in this country needs radical altering. It is one of the many things we need to ensure a sporting culture in India. Saying that Sehwag, or anyone for that matter, needs to be dropped from the team, is not a negative statement if it is backed by data and logic. But saying that Sehwag is a no-good so-and-so is bang out of order.
Is it the end of the road for him in international cricket then? He has already been dropped from the ODI team, after all. If it is, it will be unfortunate. This patch of bad form is badly timed too, considering he is 34. But neither does that mean that the team should persist with him on reputation, nor should he be abused for losing steam. He should be allowed to fight his battles, do what he wants to, and if he can pull his batting together and make a case for his selection in the team, all the better.
And while at it, please, no conspiracy theories – after 532 runs at 28 in 11 Tests in the past year, one shouldn't need anything apart from 'out of form' to justify his exclusion.
It's been a great ride, but it looks like it's over. Or almost so. There were highs. There were lows too. Those should be remembered as they were. Sehwag treaded the cricketing grounds of the world like an elephant; whether he does again or not is moot – what's important is that his value should not be undermined because of his recent travails with the bat.