For the current generation of Indian cricket fans, the trouble at the top of the order is an all-too-familiar one. But while the days of make-shift openers are behind us, getting the right combination could prove tricky in the coming days.
Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Murali Vijay are the openers for the New Zealand series. With four hundreds and a 99 this year, Sehwag was an easy call. But Gambhir and Vijay are in a joust for the second spot.
The fit-again Gambhir will be Sehwag’s preferred partner in Ahmedabad. But some issues need to be addressed. Do you go by past performances or form? Vijay is clearly the form player at this juncture. His 139 in Bangalore was as critical to India’s series win as his 37 on Day 5.
In contrast, Gambhir’s recent scores have been 12, 1, 25 against South Africa, 2 & 0 in Galle, and 25 & 0 in Mohali. One could discount the duck in Mohali, where he was done in by the umpire.
Then, there are his injuries: knee in Colombo and Mohali, groin in the World T20, and hamstring in the IPL, in which he managed two fifties in 10 innings. In the Asia Cup, he managed back-to-back 80s, but he’s had a largely ordinary year.
But let’s not forget Gambhir’s astonishing success preceding his dry patch: hundreds in five successive Tests, and fifties in a record-equalling 11 Tests. When you nearly equal Don Bradman and then equal Viv Richards, it’s all downhill from there.
Vijay hasn’t been unimpressive in the limited chances, mostly as Gambhir’s replacement. In 2008, Gambhir’s one-Test ban for elbowing Shane Watson allowed the Chennai opener his debut. He added 98 and 116 in the Nagpur Test with Sehwag as India won 2-0.
A year later, Gambhir took leave from the Brabourne Test on account of his sister’s wedding. Vijay filled in, made 87, and added 221 with Sehwag, who smashed an epic 293. While it put him on the plane to Bangladesh, it denied him the opening slot. He batted at No. 5 in Dhaka — making 30 — and at No. 3 later against South Africa, making 4, 32 and 7.
These were followed by 58, 14 and 27 opening the innings in Sri Lanka, and then the hundred in Bangalore. The numbers tell you that Vijay has impressed in patches.
On form, he’s better than Gambhir. But then, Gambhir and Sehwag make an explosive pair that has won many games for India. One could refer to the Raina-Yuvraj case as a precedent. Yuvraj Singh, going through a prolonged slump, missed the SSC Test due to fever. It allowed Raina a prolific beginning to his Test career, locking Yuvraj out of the side for now.
So while Sehwag and Gambhir will most likely open in Motera, is it the right choice? Since Gambhir has spent this year injury prone and largely off form, does he get to walk in only because he is physically fit?
Gambhir is one big hundred away from laying these doubts to rest. And one hopes that hundred would arrive in Ahmedabad.