India in Bangladesh, 2007 May 17, 2007

No closure for opening problems

Who will open with Wasim Jaffer in Virender Sehwag's absence? © Getty Images

India's problems at the top of the order are now entering their third season and for all that time the typical response to the dilemma of the opening pair has been to leave one end open. That's also the case on this tour of Bangladesh with the selectors, possibly expecting the flattest of wickets, sending a team with only one specialist opener in Wasim Jaffer.

The problems first surfaced, ironically, on another flat-track series, when Aakash Chopra was dropped in Pakistan in 2003-04 to accommodate an extra batsman from the in-form middle order. Parthiv Patel was made to open and Chopra was dropped, with no return in sight. Since then, India had struggled to find a stable partner for Virender Sehwag. The answer seemed to be Wasim Jaffer yet, by the time he'd cemented his place in the side, Sehwag had run into poor form. They have tried nine different opening combinations over the past 30 Test matches, always struggling with at least one choice. Again, before the Bangladesh tour, the selectors had only one opener in good form; probably bored by the debates over the second opener, they chose to drop the issue.

Instead, they have chosen Dinesh Karthik, who has played some gutsy, yet attractive, cricket in his short international career and scored a half-century in South Africa in his first Test innings as an opener. He has opened before for Tamil Nadu and South Zone, so he is not altogether a non-specialist.

However, the problem with the middle order stays. The persons are the same, the predicament similar. One of them has to be dropped, though the difference this time around is that no one is in sparkling enough form to ensure his place in the side. Only Dravid and Tendulkar look certain to start. If India, in an attempt to push the tempo, pick five bowlers, the situation will become even more difficult.

The other option here would have been to drop Mahendra Singh Dhoni, play Karthik as the keeper and keep space for an extra batsman. But the conditions don't allow for a keeper who will also open the batting - and, in any case, the nets have given no indication that Karthik will keep. Yuvraj, Laxman, and Dravid have opened in the past too, so it might not be a surprise to see one of them open the innings.

In matches like this, in unpleasant conditions and against easier opposition, there is a temptation to take things one game at a time. India may end up winning both the Tests here but, unless they have planned for - and have faith in - Karthik as an opener on greener wickets in England, any other combination will be an example of the selectors' lack of foresight.

Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine