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A vacancy for Yuvraj Singh
by Partab Ramchand
Dec 25, 2007
An embarrassment of riches can also lead to a problem and landing in Australia it was clear that the Indians certainly were in a dilemma. This involved the lustrous batting line up and the need to fit Yuvraj Singh into a middle order that already had the houseful word firmly on it. For years now the quartet of Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman had reigned supreme with the likes of Yuvraj or Md Kaif getting a look in only when the `Fab Four’ were injured or indisposed.

Ganguly’s ouster some time back saw Yuvraj gain a foothold but the return of the former captain again saw Yuvraj on the sidelines. The injury to Tendulkar gave him another opening and Yuvraj grabbed it by getting a superlative 169 in the final Test against Pakistan at Bangalore. The next game after this is the first Test against Australia at Melbourne. Tendulkar is fit and back, the famed quartet is raring to go so where does that leave Yuvraj?

At No 7 there is Mahendra Singh Dhoni and after that the four bowlers. The opening slots in recent times have been manned by Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Kartik who have done reasonably well. This time in the reserves there is also Virender Sehwag. So then what is the solution? That must have been uppermost in Anil Kumble’s mind on the long flight from Mumbai to Sydney.

Now on the eve of the Melbourne Test the problem seems to have been solved and trust the ultimate team man `Mr Reliable’ Rahul Dravid to come up with the answer. By offering to open the innings he has opened up one vacant slot in the middle order which can now be occupied by Yuvraj.

Interestingly enough all the claimants for the middle order have opened for India. While Ganguly, Tendulkar and Yuvraj have all done it just once, Dravid and Laxman have had a rather chequered career at the top of the order. Dravid has opened in eight Tests and has scored 369 runs with two centuries and an average of 33.54 which does not compare favourably with his career average of 55.97. He last opened in Pakistan in January 2006 and figured in a 410-run partnership with Sehwag, the second highest first wicket stand in Test cricket. But he is clearly more comfortable at No 3 the slot which he has made his own and where he averages almost 60. After the two centuries in successive Tests against Pakistan his next best score is 31.

Laxman on the other has opened in 15 Tests and has scored 685 runs with one hundred and four fifties and an average of 28.54 which again compares unfavourably with his overall average of 44. He too is more at home at No 3 or No 6 and it is at these two positions that he has served the cause of the team better by coming good in a crisis.

On the face of it opening the batting or going one drop might not seem to be very different particularly in Dravid’s case who quite often has virtually faced the brand new ball with the first wicket going down cheaply. But as he explained the other day while offering to open the batting the difference lies in the mindset. ``At No 3 though sometimes you may come in early as well, there is a little difference and this difference lies with the mindset. But as a professional cricketer, it is important to adapt and adjust. The critical thing is the 10-minute changeover between innings. You have got to rush in and get ready in those ten minutes. That is when you need a different mindset and that is probably the only difference."

Given his impeccable technique, his watertight defence and his ideal temperament it is on the cards that Dravid will succeed in his once again adopted role as opener. He is a batsman known for his dedication, determination and concentration and now after offering to open one can see him already working on that mindset he has talked about. He himself has said that he does not envisage any problems facing the new ball bowlers led by the redoubtable Brett Lee on the hard and bouncy tracks. "I am comfortable in any role that is given to me by the team management. I try and do the best I can, irrespective of where I bat," said Dravid emphasizing the need to get off to good starts in Australia. ``We have a very strong and constant middle order for sometime now. But there are a lot of talented youngsters coming in and they can’t be ignored. If the team management feels that the best chance for us to do well in Australia is for me to open the batting it is fine with me. If you can see off the early part without losing too many wickets then you can make it count later on.’’

Dravid in fact opened with Jaffer in the opening tour game against Victoria and as wickets fell at the other end he stood firm in his trademark fashion to be unbeaten with 38 off 147 balls before the truncated match badly affected by rain drew to its premature close. He played down the threat of bouncy tracks in Australia. ``You expect the bounce here, but it is a question of getting used to it. If you get set, the bounce opens up your back foot game, it opens up a whole new range of strokes and gives you a lot more opportunities to score runs."

A constructive mindset can work wonders and with this positive attitude there is every chance of Dravid coming good at the top of the order if the team management does decide to push him up in the greater interests of the team. After all has not Dravid been arguably the most selfless batsman in Indian cricket?

More Views by Partab Ramchand
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