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India must sort things out at the top - Partab Ramchand column
by Partab Ramchand
Aug 22, 2008
It is not easy to defeat Sri Lanka in their own den in either forms of the game. The Indians have discovered that in the past and on the current tour after losing the Test series they are struggling to hold their own in the shorter version of the game. Faced with a modest target of 147 the Sri Lankans romped home by eight wickets in the first ODI at Dambulla. Faced with an equally modest target of 143 the Indians made heavy weather in the second match at the same venue a couple of days later and huffed and puffed their way to a three-wicket victory. It was a most unconvincing performance and the Indians will have to raise their game a couple of notches if they hope to upset the Sri Lankans in the series.

The problem for the Indians starts at the top of the batting order. When the team was first selected there were three opening batsmen in Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. The withdrawal of Tendulkar through injury brought in Subramaniam Badrinath a middle order batsman at the first class level who was still to make his international debut. Having just two recognized opening batsmen in a five-match series is a risky proposition. The worst fears were confirmed with Sehwag out through injury and Gambhir had to be accompanied by an emergency opening batsman. The choice fell on debutant Virat Kohli who is generally established at No 4 at the first class level. Worse was to follow with Gambhir being forced to opt out of the second ODI with a stiff neck. This now meant two emergency openers and so we had the rather strange sight of Kohli and Irfan Pathan going in first. It obviously was not going to be a durable partnership and for his sake and the side's sake one hopes that Pathan has opened for the last time. His promising career took a nosedive when Greg Chappell pushed him up the order during his stint as coach. Pathan who was shaping well as an all rounder – an effective left arm pace bowler and a hard hitting late order batsman in the mould of Karsan Ghavri – could not do justice to a role that was enforced on him and in a worst case scenario lost his place in both the Test and ODI side and took him a long time to make a comeback.

This kind of warped thinking not only retards the progress of a potentially fine player but also means that the side gets off to the worst possible start. The first wicket in the two ODIs has fallen at 0 and 8. A much better start could justifiably be expected had Sehwag and Gambhir been available for both the matches. The batting has generally been a struggle with Ajantha Mendis continuing to enjoy the psychological advantage that he has had since the Asia Cup final in Pakistan last month. The fact that the highest individual score in the two matches is 39 is perhaps the strongest indictment of the shoddy batting. One must not forget that this is mainly a young and inexperienced batting line-up with two players Kohli and Badrinath making their debut. On the other hand it does provide a golden opportunity for the younger brigade to show that they are ready to take over from the seniors who are in the process of being phased out.

By comparison, the bowling has come out better though to be candid this is not saying much. Their failure to press home the advantage when they had Sri Lanka at 45 for two in the first match and their ineffectiveness in allowing the home team to recover from the mire of 44 for six in the second have illustrated that there are problems on the bowling front too. Pathan has looked increasingly pedestrian and Munaf Patel inconsistent. But it does seem like the trio of Zaheer Khan, Praveen Kumar and Harbhajan Singh can just about hold their own with RP Singh in reserve. Perhaps it would not be a bad idea to revert to the seven batsmen and four bowler policy. A team should always play to their strength and whatever the batting problems so far the traditional strength for the Indians has always been the batting. But first and foremost this will have to be headed by Sehwag and Gambhir. Make shift or ad hoc arrangements will not do.
 
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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