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Where does Aakash Chopra go from here?

Written by: Suhrid Barua
Published: Sunday, November 14, 2004, 13:09 [IST]
 
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There are many cricketers who are knocking on the doors of national selectors but there is one door, which looks to be firmly slammed on one dude at least for now. The man in question is Aakash Chopra.

The Delhi opener, who was cold-shouldered after his inept showing in the just-concluded Test series against Australia, must be on the horns of a dilemma as to what has went amiss with his batting.

Public memory is fickle. The very people, who can be your most die-hard fans when the runs are flowing from your blade, can turn their backs on you once the runs dry up from your willow.

That's essentially been the case with Chopra. Foisted with the onerous proposition of opening the innings with the destructive Sehwag, Chopra, who is more of a grafter than a stroke-maker, and known to possess a watertight defence, was looked upon as an ideal foil for Sehwag.

There was one who could take the attack to the opposition camp once he gets his eye in; there was another who could bottle one end up with his dogged defence.

There was a school of thought that India's opening woes could be finally over with the emergence of Chopra-Sehwag pair. A mirage since the settled combinations of Gavaskar-Chauhan and Gavaskar-Srikanth.

One would perhaps lose count of the number of openers that the selectors over the years have tried out at the cruel arena called international cricket in the last ten to fourteen years. The names of VS Chandrashekhar, Manoj Prabhakar, WV Raman, Vikram Rathore, Devang Gandhi, Wasim Jaffar, Sadagopan Ramesh come readily to mind and the list can go on and on!

Aakash Chopra seems to be sailing in the same boat. The poor lad is very much a confidence player, who may not have truckloads of talent like Yuvraj Singh or Virender Sehwag but he compensates that with superb application.

He is a type of guy, who looks to blunt the opposition bowling attack so that the famed Indian middle-order could come into his own. The manner in which Chopra went about his task in the tour Down Under was exemplary.

There was enormous pressure on him to provide a solid support to Sehwag at the top of the order given the pathetic record of Indian openers on the bouncy strips in Australia and he didn't disappoint.

The Delhi right-hander was in prime touch in Australia. He racked up significant opening partnerships including a few century stands in the four Test series with Sehwag and the solid starts the Delhi-duo provided, can be attributed as one of the key reasons for India's superb batting performance there. Even in Pakistan, Chopra did his reputation no harm scoring a forty-odd in the opening Test at Multan.

What is sagging his morale are developments unfolding off the field. Skipper Sourav Ganguly's open preference for Yuvraj Singh ahead of Chopra shattered the lad's confidence to pieces.

Ganguly made such pronouncements at the fag-end of last season and iterated them time and again much to the discomfort of Chopra. Even though Chorpa played in two of the four Test matches against Australia, you could see the right-hander feeling the pressure. With the sword of Damocles hanging over Chopra; it was hard on the part of the youngster to give off his best.

When a guy knows that his captain is backing someone else for the opener's slot; when you know that there is no other spot for you in the star-studded middle-order; how can you expect him to perform?

In all fairness, Sourav Ganguly has done a lot for Indian cricket ever since he took over the reins from Tendulkar in 2001. Indian cricket was at its lowest ebb then, following the cloud of match-fixing allegations, which threatened to corrode the game in the country.

To lift a side from such turbulent times and mould it into an winning outfit, which is now being touted as the world's second best alongside England behind ultimate powerhouse Australia, took some doing and Sourav deserves all the accolades for it.

In case of Chopra, one reckons Sourav hasn't done the right thing by going public about his preference over Chopra. He even stated that getting forties in Tests as an opener was no good and that Chopra should look to convert those into big ones.

Come one; the guy is just into his first international season. He has played just eight matches (four Tests in Australia), (two in Pakistan), (two Tests in India against Australia).

Instead of throwing his weight behind Chopra, Ganguly continued to plumb for Yuvraj as his preference to partner Sehwag in Tests. No doubt Yuvraj is a class act and he showed that in both versions of the game. But to push him into the opener's role was going touch overboard. Chopra has every reason to feel that he was literally crucified if one may not sound too harsh.

Probably, Ganguly felt that since the middle-order is packed at the moment and there was no way Yuvraj could be accommodated in the middle-order; it would be better to use Yuvraj's skills as an opener.

As the captain of the side, Ganguly has every right to show his discretion. But you don't necessarily back someone so openly at the cost of damaging the confidence and career of another.

Where does Aakash Chopra go from here? Obviously, he has to get back to run-getting mode in Ranji ties and hope to catch the eye of the selectors. As of now, that's looks a tough call given the number of fringe openers swarming over the coveted opener's slot. Probably, celestial blessings could be the answer for Chopra!

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