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.