Search for a durable opening pair; a mirage?

Published: Sunday, June 20, 2004, 23:53 [IST]
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New Delhi:When Indian skipper Sourav Ganguly recently anointed middle order batsman Yuvraj Singh as a future Test opener, he was desperately trying to find a cure for an age-old headache.

Durable opening partnerships have been few and far between for India, underlining the weakness of batsmen against genuine new-ball pace.

An effective opening pair is virtually a mirage every captain has been chasing since India played their first Test in 1932. Since then it has been a long and distressing saga of makeshift and mediocre openers.

Ganguly, then, is following his predecessors by trying out yet another pair of makeshift openers in a bid to strike gold in the home Test series against Australia in October and South Africa the following month.

The Indian captain has plumped for the aggressive Yuvraj as Virender Sehwag's partner, knowing the batsman is a One-day specialist and has figured in just four Tests in the middle order.

Time alone will tell whether Ganguly's gamble pays dividends against quality Australian and South African pacemen.

"Yuvraj is the first choice as an opener," Ganguly said during a fitness camp which concluded in the southern city of Bangalore on Saturday.

But the move quickly prompted debate as the stroke-happy Sehwag said he preferred opening the innings with a defensive partner.

"In my opinion, the other opener should be defensive," said Sehwag, the only Indian to smash a triple-century in Tests.

"I need, maybe India too, a defensive opener whose technique is correct. He should be able to play the first 15-20 overs without any hassle.

"According to me, the ideal combination is some one like Aakash Chopra or Sanjay Bangar because both are defensive openers and that allows me to go for shots."

Star Indian batsman Sachin Tendulkar also chipped in, saying Chopra had done exceptionally well.

"He (Chopra) is solid and has had two tough Test series in Australia and Pakistan. He looked confident and mentally tough. Yuvraj is also talented. Both are equally good. It is a tricky situation," said Tendulkar.

Chopra may be a defensive batsman, but he has given a good account of himself as a specialist. He opened with Sehwag in eight successive matches before being axed for the third and final Test against Pakistan in April.

Interestingly, he was then replaced with wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel, another makeshift opener.

Even Sehwag was not a specialist opener when he made his Test debut as a middle order batsman against South Africa in 2001.

Ganguly argued that Yuvraj, like Sehwag, also had the ability to succeed in his new role.

Moving a middle order player up the order is nothing new in Indian cricket as many, including Dilip Sardesai, Ashok Mankad and Ravi Shastri, have performed both roles.

But the problem of finding a player with the right credentials is also nothing new. Legendary former Indian batsman Sunil Gavaskar may be forgiven for not remembering the names of all his opening partners because most of them disappeared only too quickly.

The 'Little Master', the first batsman to complete 10,000 Test runs, opened with more than a dozen partners during his illustrious career (1971 to 1987), but only Chetan Chauhan, Anshuman Gaekwad and Krishnamachari Srikkanth could make any impression.

So the scenario remains as grim as ever. It is now considered an achievement of sorts when the same pair of openers lasts more than one Test series.

Sehwag has already had four partners -- Chopra, Bangar, Patel and Wasim Jaffer -- and is set to have the fifth in Yuvraj.

Jaffer, Shiv Sunder Das and Deep Dasgupta, who have opened in recent years, have now been virtually reduced to footnotes in Indian cricket history.

And it is history that Ganguly is seeking to overturn as he seeks to find such a rare jewel in Indian cricket -- a durable opening pair.

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