With Shikhar Dhawan’s magnificent debut hundred, the opening conundrum seems to be resolved for the moment. One of the reasons why India struggled against England during their last home series was that the team never got a good start to their innings.
Their battle-scarred openers, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir, were not in the best of form and their quick dismissals gave the England bowlers enough confidence to trouble the strong middle order.
When Dhawan was not fit to play the Delhi Test, the Indian selectors picked Gautam Gambhir, who has shown decent form going by his scores in domestic tournaments. But since he was ruled out due to a mild attack of jaundice, the wise men picked Suresh Raina, who has not set the Gomti on fire with his recent scores. The move flummoxed many who were left wondering if Ajinkya Rahane would ever be given a chance to don the India cap in the longer format.
When skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni exchanged the team with his counterpart Shane Watson, most people were relieved that Rahane had finally made it to the team after serving drinks in more than 15 Test matches. The question then was who would open the innings? That too was solved when Cheteshwar Pujara came out to face the Aussie new ball attack with Murali Vijay.
Though it seemed strange that Raina was picked as a replacement for an opening batsman, the team strategy for the future seems fairly obvious. They will not risk playing a raw middle-order batsman in the opening slot.
With a tough away series coming up against South Africa, the selectors would know who are the batsmen who can cope with pace and bounce and who prey like tigers in home conditions. With Vijay and Dhawan certain to tour South Africa later this year, the question is about the third opener. Gambhir would have an edge over Sehwag as age is on his side and he averaged 60.50 during India’s last tour in 2010-11.
The selectors could utilise Sehwag in the middle order — his favourite slot.
Recently, almost all teams in South Africa have struggled to get off to a good start. Dale Steyn, Mone Morkel, Vernon Philander and Lonwabo Tsotsobe are probably the best combination in the world and facing them is going to be a tough for Dhawan and Vijay who have been reared on flat Indian tracks.
Apart from Sachin Tendulkar, the middle order seems safe in the hands of Pujara, Virat Kohli and Dhoni. It is here that Sehwag could add tremendous value.
India do not have a Test series after the current Australian one and it will be interesting to see on what basis the selectors pick the team to tour South Africa — a tour that will undoubtedly separate the men from the boys.
The writer is a former Cricket Club of India captain and Bombay University cricketer. Tag: CYCSPL