Indian Cricket November 15, 2007

Time to rejig batting order

Captain Kumble might turn out to be an inspired choice
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The squad picked for the first two Tests against Pakistan was a relief. VVS Laxman survived. I've begun to think of Laxman in the way I think of an endangered animal species. Every time I hear that he's survived a selectorial cull, I touch wood, celebrate the new sighting and then revert to worrying about extinction in the near future.

In a perfect world he'd bat at number three with Rahul Dravid at five and Sourav Ganguly at six. In my dreams. We're going to be treated to the sight of Dravid with a point or two to prove, hunkering down in the number three trench, prepared to wait out the enemy for the duration of the battle of the Somme.

If we want to see the top order trying to take the initiative, the captain would do well to promote Laxman, who is more likely to play his shots than Dravid. In the semi-old days, Virender Sehwag used to supply the momentum at the top. In his absence the team needs someone else. Dravid is the Indian team's best batsman but his recent Test form has been iffy. Wasim Jaffer and Dravid in partnership after the loss of Dinesh Karthik's wicket is a batting vanguard designed to fight rearguard actions; not the best strategy to take to Australia.

Laxman at three would carry the fringe benefit of pushing Ganguly down to six. Ganguly has earned a place in Test team against Pakistan and if he performs, he will have earned his berth to Australia, but he should bat no higher than six. Given his fragility against the short ball it would be silly to have him bat above someone like Laxman against an Australian pace battery on bouncy pitches.

Which is why Captain Kumble might turn out to be an inspired choice. He's the one player who can disregard the hierarchies of Indian cricket and force a rational batting order on the team. Dravid was too compromised by his closeness to Greg Chappell to impose his authority on the line-up after the Australian's departure and though Mahendra Singh Dhoni doesn't seem to have a deferential bone in his body, he is possibly too 'junior' and too unproven at the Test level to tell his 'seniors' where they should bat. Kumble has been given the captaincy at the end of a magnificent career, he has nothing left to prove, he's not a batsman (and has no personal stake in the matter): consequently he's the closest India gets to the beau ideal of the selfless, disinterested leader.

With him in charge, I live in hope that the eccentric moves to replace Laxman as a Test batsman with Yuvraj will come to nothing. One reason for not making Dhoni Test captain is that it would have been harder for him to keep players who had done well for him in the shorter versions of the game, out of the Test team. The clamour to include Yuvraj in the Test team is fuelled by his limited-overs performances. A captain like Kumble who doesn't play that form of cricket any more, is insulated from those pressures.

Harbhajan Singh has his critics who argue that he isn't the wicket-taking force he once was. He had a wretched time in Pakistan in 2005-6 and an indifferent series against England soon after, but in fairness, he did pretty well against the West Indies in the last Test series he played. He took eleven wickets in two Test matches. I think he's owed an opportunity to prove himself and the Pakistan series is the right proving ground. If he doesn't take enough wickets, he ought to be dropped from the Australian tour.

It is unusual to have two keepers in the playing eleven. There's an Indian precedent in Farokh Engineer and Budhi Kunderan, but it's an unstable condition. While a specialist opening batsman is cut some slack in the matter of big runs so long as he delivers partnerships (Chetan Chauhan comes to mind), a ‘keeper-batsman playing as a specialist opener is, paradoxically, under huge pressure to score a hundred to justify the exclusion of the specialist batsmen clamouring to play in his place. It's unfair, but that's how it works and the Test series against Pakistan should be time enough to judge if Karthik is good enough to become a fixture at the top of the order.

I'd have had S Badrinath in Yuvraj's place because after nineteen tests and a batting average of thirty-three, the Punjab batsman has done enough to demonstrate that he'll never be a significant Test batsman. He's that rare creature: a great specialist limited-overs player. But it's politically impossible to drop him from consideration given his great deeds in one-day and Twenty20 cricket, so the selectors can't be faulted on that score. All things considered, they've done a decent job.

Mukul Kesavan is a writer based in New Delhi

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • fanedlive on December 20, 2007, 8:42 GMT

    Now with Yuvi proving himself, I think there shud be a place 4 him down the order at no. 6...But I strongly believe that Dravid should open, followed by Laxman should bat at 3, Sachin at 4, Sourav at 5 and Yuvi at 6...

  • fanedlive on December 12, 2007, 13:22 GMT

    Actually, only in today's newspaper TOI, somebody wrote (though passingly) that Dravid should not have problem opening, since for on many occasions, Dravid used to go in within an over or two. To me it seems too much of a psychological barrier than actual cricketing technique/ capability. For that, perhaps, it would be prudent to let the no 11 to open with Dravid, so that Yuvaraj, Karthik et all need not be made scapegoat at top. All our superheroes can bat from 3-6 as per as their first preference slots (or second at worst). It is better to make Ishant Sharma or whosoever, as the sacrificial goat.

    Mukul was right about Lakshman first etc. etc. But main point is that in many occasions, batting order flexibility seems to be extraterrestrial concept. Even in Odis, flexibility generally means sending someome like Pathan at three.

    For the rest, open the slip and send.

  • fanedlive on December 10, 2007, 14:01 GMT

    Well, fans you have been so kind to the article of Mukul. Yes Yuvaj could be future, but does not necessarily to replace VVS. VVS is a player of the generation and a sensible player that I would have seen over the last 20 years. To make proviso to Yuvraj is to dislodge Saurav or Dinesh from the team, as I said in earlier blog, VVS is material for next 2-3 years at least to make us proud in the test arena. I also suggest if saurav is to be in the team, then why can't Rahul open the innings? If I was the Vengsarkar then, the choice is 1Jaffer. 2Dravid (Dravid game a typical opener's game). 3Sachin 4Laxman( to me this is the place where he needs to bat, just to give him enough time to shuttle and play. I still think he has the the guts to play long innings, a trusted player). 5Yuvraj Singh (i don't thin k his one innings make him great, as Pathan can make 100 at the same pace),6Saurav/Badrinath (my choice is to make Saurav 100 then give a chance to Badri, as he is wonderful player,fielder

  • fanedlive on December 9, 2007, 20:44 GMT

    I really hated when you told...

    I'd have had S Badrinath in Yuvraj's place because after nineteen tests and a batting average of thirty-three, the Punjab batsman has done enough to demonstrate that he'll never be a significant Test batsman.'

    Do you agree it was ridiculous on your side to say this. Man we all agree VVS is very good, but give it or take it, Yuvi has to get a spot in XI, else he might just go to the same road as Majumdar went. I would think best bet for team and batting order is Dravid, Jaffer, Laxman, Sachin, DADA, Yuvi, Dhoni, Pathan, Kumble, Zaheer, RP Singh.. Reserve Opener -- Sehwag, Reserver Keeper -- Kaarthik, Reserve Middle Order -- Manoj Tiwary, Reserver Spinner -- Harbhajan, Reserve Pacer -- Munaf, since Sreesanth is injured

  • fanedlive on December 9, 2007, 11:58 GMT

    So then Mukul...I guess as a lover of Indian cricketand having watched yesterday's innings, you're happy to be proven wrong after having called Yuvraj a one-day specialist?

  • fanedlive on December 9, 2007, 4:19 GMT

    Well, fans you have been so kind to the artical of Mukul. there are comments positive and negative as well, but i don't think some of the comments against Mukul are valid. Simple reason, Yes Yuvaj a find for the future but, it does not necessariliy to replace VVS, that's what Mukul trying to give a message to all.

    In no way should I think Yuvraj is better batsman than VVS. VVS is a player of the generation and a sensible player that I would have seen over the last 20 years. Failure of one innings is not measure for his talent. To make proviso to Yuvraj is to dislodge Saurav ot Dinesh from the team, as I said earlier blog, VVS is mateial for next 2-3 years at least to make us proud in the test arena. I also suggest if saurav is to be in the team, then why can't Rahul open the innings?

    If I was the Vengsarkar then, the choice is

    1. Jaffer (Ok as an opener) 2. Dravid (I always feel Dravid game a typical openers game and better than Gavaskar) 3. Sachin (what is the bloody hell h

  • fanedlive on December 8, 2007, 14:56 GMT

    Totally disagree with the sentiments of this article..in 3 years time It wont be me, or any of the others on here to prove you wrong about Yuvraj Singh Mr kesavan, no. It will be Yuvraj himself. and how i look foward to that day.

  • fanedlive on December 8, 2007, 14:55 GMT

    Totally disagree with the sentiments of this article..in 3 years time It wont be me, or any of the others on here to prove you wrong about Yuvraj Singh Mr kesavan, no. It will be Yuvraj himself. and how i look foward to that day.

  • fanedlive on December 7, 2007, 4:48 GMT

    I think the rejig proposed by Mukul still shows a lot of respect for the abilities for one player....Sachin who since 2000 has not done enough justice to his "supreme" talent(if he possesses naything like that) and during these times less fortunates in the team like Laxman, Kumble have shown more character and fight and won test matches than him .....(and please don't quote those statistics).....Laxman should have batted at no. 4 all along and Sachin at no. 5......

    Cheers

  • fanedlive on December 3, 2007, 19:17 GMT

    Mukul seems to be a biased mind - with something against Punjab. Its funny that one reson for Yuvi not playing in the Test Eleven is that he is from Punjab...

    Secondly & more importantly, I will want Mukul to re-write the artile after the Aussie tour. Indian wickets are tailor made for Batsmen - it is evident from the scoring pattern at Delhi & Calcutta tests against Pakistan... and, I willl be aeger to see Ganguly & Laxma perform in Australia. Personally, I like Laxman but it is the basis of the reasoning that lacks sanity.

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