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Closure for opening woes
by Partab Ramchand
Jun 04, 2007
So Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik are the new hopes as far as the Indian opening pair is concerned. One does not wish to be too cynical but much the same thing was said about Sadagopan Ramesh and Shiv Sundar Das, Virender Sehwag and Akash Chopra, Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. And to be candid none could fulfill the early promise despite stringing together some notable partnerships.

India’s opening blues since the retirement of Sunil Gavaskar have been well documented. Kris Srikkanth provided some hope but his best days were over by the time his partnership with Gavaskar ended. Arun Lal was a disappointment while Ravi Shastri provided solidity even while alternating between the top and middle order. In the nineties the pairing of Navjot Sidhu and Manoj Prabhakar which was hastily put together came off and the two provided a lot of stability at the top. But after Prabhakar was discarded midway through the 1996 World Cup the Indian team rarely got off to a good start. There were hardly any suitable candidates and in patch up solutions various combinations involving players like Sanjay Manjrekar, Rahul Dravid, WV Raman, Nayan Mongia, Ajay Jadeja, VVS Laxman, Vikram Rathour, Devang Gandhi and MSK Prasad were all tried out in quick succession. None of them really succeeded even though Sidhu remained constant but the lack of a suitable opening partner saw Indian cricket in a grip of a mini crisis at the top.

In the new millennium the combination of Ramesh and Das did provide some succor and they looked really promising. They were young and fit, the ideal right hand left hand combination and complimented each other’s batting style – Ramesh was the stroke player while Das symbolized solidity – admirably. Somewhere along the line though the failings started, there was no recovery and the search for a new opening pair started anew. In desperation even Deep Dasgupta was pushed to open but clearly this was not even a short term investment.

In England in 2002 the think tank decided to push Sehwag up the order. It was reckoned that if Srikkanth could be a success at the top with his swashbuckling style why not Sehwag who had started his career the previous year in South Africa at No 6 – and with a century to boot. Sehwag was an instant success and at the other end he had the more sober Sanjay Bangar. The unlikely duo came off for some time – even stringing together a double century partnership but with the discarding of Bangar the search started all over again. Finally the selectors plumped for Akash Chopra as a partner for Sehwag who by now was established. The two did provide some style and substance notably in Australia in 2003-04. It was too good to last though and Chopra following failures against Pakistan (away) and Australia (home) came crashing down to earth. Panic buttons were pressed again and everyone from Parthiv Patel to Yuvraj Singh to Irfan Pathan was pushed to open the innings. Again this was clearly no long term solution. Then for some time the Sehwag – Gambhir pairing promised much with a couple of notable partnerships including one of 218. Again this was too good to last. Gambhir fell away and then Sehwag too was axed following a series of low scores that saw his career average dip from 56 to 49.

Trust a batsman from the Bombay school of batting that has served Indian cricket admirably since the days of Vijay Merchant to come to the rescue. Jaffer is not exactly a newcomer having made his Test debut against South Africa in March 2000. But he could not establish himself and was dropped only to be recalled for the tour of the West Indies two years later. Following a dismal tour of England he was dropped again but there is quite a bit that steely determination, fierce concentration and total dedication can accomplish and Jaffer is now back – one hopes as a long term prospect. In addition to all his other qualities the right handed batsman has an unruffled temperament, text book strokes and the ability to play a long innings – just the kind that is required in Test cricket. If any proof is required of his abilities he has provided it courtesy a double hundred in the West Indies, a hundred in South Africa, a century in Bangladesh and one more at home. The manner in which he came back after being dismissed for a pair last month speaks volumes about his fighting qualities.

If Jaffer’s success at the top of the order can even be termed predictable given his background his partner coming good has to be a major surprise. In the first place with Mahendra Singh Dhoni around Karthik could not have been certain of a place in the side. Secondly the middle order has a firm houseful look about it and Karthik for all his batting ability could not have squeezed in. His 93 against Pakistan last year was compiled late in the order when he was doubling up as wicket keeper. So the manner in which he has grabbed an opening slot and made it his own is to be commended. Given an opportunity to open he has made the most of it and with a string of consistent scores and now with his maiden Test hundred and his shared success with Jaffer he cannot be considered anymore as a makeshift opener even if he is not a natural opening batsman like his senior partner.

Yes, we all know that the real test will be in England with the vastly different wicket and weather conditions but Jaffer with his growing confidence and Karthik with his ideal temperament could well be the pair to solve Indian cricket’s opening blues once and for all. It’s time perhaps to be less cynical and more positive.

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