No more tinkering with openers, Please!

Published: Monday, June 21, 2004, 12:51 [IST]
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The opener's slot has been a perennial bugbear for India ever since the retirement of the legendary Sunil Gavaskar. Makeshift openers became the order of the day. Of late, India seemed to have found a viable combination in the dashing Sehwag and the dour Chopra. However, a combination of factors saw the axe fall on Chopra in the Rawalpindi Test that eventually led to India reverting to makeshift arrangements.

In the recently held fitness camp at Bangalore, captain Ganguly stirred a hornet's nest by categorically saying that middle order batsman Yuvraj Singh is his choice for the opener's slot when the Aussies and Proteas tour India later this year. Yuvraj was quick to acknowledge the faith that the captain reposed in him. However, it was the statement of Virender Sehwag that gave food for thought. Sehwag was candid while admitting that he preferred a copybook player to partner his dashing ways at the crease. The usually reticent Sachin too spoke in a somewhat similar tone of his clone, while Dravid was diplomatic enough while saying that the opener's job should go to the one who enjoys it most.

In fact, Sehwag even went to the extent of suggesting names of Aakash Chopra and Sanjay Bangar with whom he had done reasonably well. The Sehwag-Chopra combination was possibly the best India has had after almost a decade and a half. Sehwag could play his natural attacking game while Chopra could hold one end tight. It may be recalled that the very moment the combination was disturbed, Sehwag lost his concentration and was out to a first-ball duck in the Rawalpindi Test.

Opening the batting is a specialist's job. The fact that an unorthodox player like Sehwag succeeded in the opener's slot is no guarantee for success for another player in the same mould. The sight of Sehwag and Yuvraj opening together in a Test match might be mind-boggling as they can keep the spectators on the edge of their seats with their flamboyant ways at the crease. However, one must not forget that on the flip-side, there is the danger of them returning to the pavilion even before the spectators have settled into their seats. Sehwag was the first one to admit it saying that there was no guarantee as to how long he would stay at the crease because of his penchant to go after the ball from the word go.

Past proves that mixing caution with aggression has always paid rich dividends. The success of the Lawry-Simpson duo, Haynes-Greenidge as well India's last recognised specialist pair of Gavaskar-Srikkanth can be attributed to the fact that the dashing strokeplay of one was excellently complemented by the dour-defensive approach of the other. Ganguly must think twice before sending two make-shift openers up the order as it could prove suicidal (that too against possibly the best opening attack in the world). It defies logic and is likely to create an insecurity feeling among the middle order batsmen.

In this context, the wise move would be to persist with the Chopra-Sehwag pair. So far, Chopra might not have had big scores to boast of, but he is a lambi race ka ghoda and too good a player to warm the reserve benches. Solid opening starts had been eluding India quite often in the past whenever they toured abroad. One of the reasons why India did exceptionally well during their recent overseas campaign Down Under as well as in Pakistan is the start provided by these two enabling the middle order to play with more ease once the shine was taken off the new ball.

It is high time India did away with the makeshift arrangements that might yield short-term goals. The opener's slot is not the one to be tinkered with time and again. Nobody could find fault with Sunil Gavaskar if he fails to recollect the names of his opening partners. Sehwag shouldn't meet the same fate. Even during a short span of two years, he has had to open with almost four different openers what with Yuvraj waiting in queue to be the fifth.

The opener's job isn't all about tackling the new ball and taking its shine off. He has to lay a solid foundation on which the middle order could consolidate. For that to happen, India needs solidity at the top. Two slam-bang strokemakers at the top would send the wrong signals to the opposition camp that might be waiting to cash in on any lacunae. The ideal thing would be to have a an attacking player at one end and someone who plays the ball on merit at the other. Sehwag and Chopra ideally fits the bill.

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