Its only a minor reshuffle at the top of the order

Published: Thursday, February 13, 2003, 23:53 [IST]
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Johannesburg: Indian skipper Saurav Ganguly on Thursday sought to downplay the reshuffle in the batting order and Sachin Tendulkar resuming his role as an opener saying it was a minor "swapping" and not much should be read into it. "It's not a major shake-up but just that positions between number one and three have been swapped," said Ganguly edgily as speculation mounted on what could have led to this decision and some commentators openly expressed their displeasure at the relegation of the explosive Virender Sehwag.

It has been more than an year since Sehwag donned the mantle of the opener. All this while Sehwag has been such a presence at the top of the order that critics find it almost unthinkable to see him come lower down. All of Sehwag's One-day runs in 2002 have been made in rapid fire style with a strike rate of 98 runs per 100 balls. Sehwag has cracked five One-day hundreds including two in the demanding tour of New Zealand recently where others were struggling to put bat to ball. His astonishing batting did not let the team miss the presence of Tendulkar at the top of the order but now the two have swapped position again.

"I have never said we would not be flexible on the issue. In any case it's not a major reshuffle and not much should be made out of it," Ganguly said. Despite Ganguly's pleadings, much is bound to be read in to it given Sehwag's awesome track record and the fact the captain himself is resembling a sitting duck at the start of the innings. Ganguly returned from the New Zealand tour with his batting reputation in tatters with only 58 runs from seven One-day games and showed no improvement in his form with another dismal show against lowly Holland on Wednesday. With his authority eroded, Ganguly appears to be succumbing to the clamouring and restoration of Tendulkar at the top of order is a sign of it, feel critics.

Tendulkar had publicly expressed his desire to open the innings some time ago and there has been popular opinion to let the master batsman remain at the crease for the maximum time possible by allowing him to open the innings. "We have never said Tendulkar would not open again," Ganguly said. "Indeed we have prepared for this World Cup by looking at specific player's record against a specific team." Ganguly indicated Tendulkar would also open in India's match against Australia saying the master batsman has had stupendous success against that team and it would only be right if the cat is set free among pigeons to take the defending champion on in its own game of aggression.

"We have looked at Tendulkar's record against Australia and it's only best he is allowed to take a shot against the opposition once again," Ganguly said. "He was restored at the top of order against Holland to allow him to prepare for the big game against Australia," the Indian skipper said justifying the decision. But if track record alone was the criterion for fiddling with the batting order, then Ganguly himself needs to go down the order - and not Sehwag in spite of what experts say about the advantage of right-left combination, said one former cricketer turned commentator. The Indians have stuck to the right-left opening pair for many years now but the form of Ganguly in recent times is consistently causing the fall of an early wicket.

Ganguly has an outstanding One-day record but he has been clearly struggling to raise a decent score and appears rattled by his own failures. Coach John Wright had a sensible suggestion on the issue. "The team has three openers and it's only wise if the three are allowed to come in the first 15 overs when the fielding restrictions are in place." Ganguly should be given the credit to keep faith in his batsmen despite stray failures. The tour of New Zealand was a case in point where Sehwag's failure in the Test series was not allowed to come in way of his opening in ODIs and he justified it with some breathtaking innings on the tour.

Ganguly had then repeatedly asserted his faith in Sehwag as an opener and the trend seemed to be continuing when the Delhi batsman started the innings in the two practice games before the 2003 World Cup started rolling. But all of a sudden Tendulkar was at the top of the order and Sehwag pushed down at three. By again failing against Holland, Ganguly would now have to justify his presence ahead of Sehwag. Tendulkar did his bit to justify his position with a fine 52-run knock on Wednesday.

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