Tendulkar should have opened the innings

Written by: S K Sham
Published: Tuesday, January 11, 2000, 0:00 [IST]
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It was once again a case of being 'so near yet so far' for the Indian team in its continual battle against arch rivals Pakistan.

Victory was just moments away in their first match of the one-day triangular series, and it had only to be sewn up. But a terrible slide in the last three overs by the Indian bowlers, who had done so well until then, allowed Pakistan to grab victory by the forelock.

The pitch at Brisbane, on account of its pronounced bounce, has been the bugbear of top-order batsmen of all three participating teams. As such, the superior bowling skills of Pakistan have helped them to win both their matches.

In fact, the Pakistani bowlers did everything for the team -- gathering valuable runs, in the face of a middle-order collapse, as well as capturing the wickets.

On Monday, Indian bowling turned out trumps, after a disappointing batting display. Even then, a total of 195 was considered competitive enough in view of what had happened the previous day, in the match between Pakistan and Australia, where the target of 185 for victory had turned out to be far beyond the home team.

The Indian bowling rose to the occasion and had the strong Pakistani batting tottering at 70 for 6. The loosening of the grip by the Indian team was as inexplicable as was the fightback by the Pakistani tail gallant.

In a nail-biting finish, in which the climax had been reached with Pakistan needing six runs off the last over of the match, the winning run came off the very last ball, a desperately scrambled bye, even as the ball had lodged in wicket-keeper Sameer Dighe's gloves. Venkatesh Prasad, who had bowled that ball, had done nothing wrong. But the batsmen at the crease, Saqlain Mushtaq and Waqar Yunus, had decided to run, come what may.

In the end. A frenetic attempt to obtain a run-out cost the Indian team four extra runs from an overthrow.

Even if we take consolation from the fact that until that last over it was anybody's game, and the non-partisan might be prone to say it was the game of cricket that was the ultimate winner, there are lessons galore for the Indian team from this match, coming close on the heels of a 3-0 rout at the hands of Australia in the Test series.

Sachin Tendulkar's decision to bat lower down the order, at No.4 to be precise, proved disastrous and the batting of the side looked vulnerable throughout. There were two factors that made this decision look foolhardy. One is the statistical fact that Tendulkar has so far scored 23 of his 24 one-day centuries batting at the top of the order. The other important factor was that over the last three years, the opening pair of Tendulkar and Saurav Ganguly had earned the reputation of being the best opening pair in this from of cricket.

V V S Laxman, the centurion of the last Test at Sydney, was completely out of depth in adjusting to the change of pace of batting that was expected of him. Plenty of overs were eaten away by him during the period when the field restriction of only two outside the circle was on. It has been seen that Tendulkar, who is not averse to playing the lofted drive or pull, scores many of his runs during this period of first fifteen overs.

Whenever the scoring rate drops, and drops alarmingly, the tendency to get desperate on stroke-making and attempting singles and second runs creeps in. This is exactly what happened with the Indian batting, hence a couple of foolish run-outs. These dismissals put further brakes on the scoring rate.

One of the reasons given out by the team management for Tendulkar batting lower down the order was that the Pakistani attack had Shoaib Akhtar, the one bowler who had got the world's leading batsman out on quite a few occasions in the past.

From the bowling order that the Pakistani team had employed in the last match, it was clear that Akhtar was to come first change, so his introduction could not have been before the first eight or ten overs had gone. As it is, Shoaib Akhtar was at the bowling crease when Tendulkar came in to bat. Moreover, does the best batsmen in the world need this kind of protection?

It is imperative for the sake of boosting India's batting, in terms of runs and the scoring rate, for Tendulkar to open the innings with Ganguly.

A team that forsakes its best batting pair will invariably find it difficult to build useful partnerships, or raise their scoring rate, because a lot of ground is already lost in the first fifteen overs.

One expects the team to have learnt these lessons as they take on Australia on Wednesday at Melbourne.

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