Southampton (England): Regular opener Shiv Sunder Das, after an unbroken stint of 23 Tests in the last two years, shockingly finds himself virtually tossed out of contention even though the four-Test series against England would only get underway next week.
Das, who has opened in every Test Saurav Ganguly has captained for India since late 2000, saw the door slammed shut on him after he scored 29 and 0 in his two innings against the West Indies 'A' at Arundel earlier this week. With a disastrous West Indies tour behind him, the poor outing at Arundel has forced the team management to leave out the diminutive opener from the three-day match against Hampshire, starting on Saturday, in a bid to try out a new opening combination ahead of the first Test at Lord's next week.
The Indians are aware openers are the key to keep the pace-based England attack at bay in the forthcoming Test series for the batting aristocracy of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Saurav Ganguly and V V S Laxman to blossom in the middle order. Coach John Wright refuses to be taken in by India's sterling performance in the NatWest triangular series and emphasises openers, along with the batting of the tail- enders, were the key to India's chances in the Test series. "Openers have to be extremely consistent and must give the platform for the rest of the batters. Similarly, we need runs from the tail in this series," coach John Wright said.
The Indians are unwilling to take any chances at Lord's, which is seen along with Headingly as the only two venues of the four-Test series where result is more of a possibility. The pitches at the Oval and Trent Bridge, by common consensus, should be a batsman's delight in the hot second half of England summer. Das, it would appear, hasn't been able to come out of the shell-shock experience of facing the West Indian pacemen in the Caribbean recently. The Orissa batsman was seen as India's long-awaited answer to the opener's issue as he made an impressive start to his Test career and even bagged the man-of-the-series award in Zimbabwe where India drew 1-1 in the two-Test series in 2001.
Das was viewed as compact and fearless and appreciated for his powers of concentration before chinks in his batting technique began to appear bigger and bigger. He got himself into a tangle against pinpointed bouncers from Glenn McGrath and company when the Australians toured India in early 2001. Then it became a regular issue with him to get bowled via an inside edge from his bat. It was so painful for India's opening legend Sunil Gavaskar, an early admirer of Das, that he gave him batting instructions at Trinidad recently. "He has been out in this fashion in quarter of his Test innings and it is not funny," remarked Gavaskar after he had spent over an hour with the little opener in the nets.
Gavaskar's observation was simple - Das was bringing his bat too far ahead of his body and consequently wasn't able to control the entire movement of a delivery on to his bat - hence the unintended edges.