The time to groom another opener is now
The troublesome opening position is once more throwing up a few tantrums on the eve of the second Test at Harare. Sadagoppan Ramesh's position has been upset due to a string of ordinary performances and a back ailment which has cropped up with an uncanny sense of timing. A fit Ramesh would indubitably have been India's best candidate for the job. It is a little surprising that an opening stand of 71 in the Indian run chase at Bulawayo does not get sufficient consideration in the argument over Ramesh's Test place. The bottomline is the partnership and not the individual scores of the two batsmen and indeed there have been few numerically superior opening stands by Indian pairs on tour in the last few years.
To get to the last century opening stand in an away Test, one has to go back to Hamilton in 1993/94 when Sidhu and Mongia notched up 102. The effort by Messrs. Ramesh and Das does not compare unfavourably although they had a fortuitous break when Das was given not out on nought after gloving a catch down the leg side off Brighton Watambwa. Zimbabwe's bowling was badly defanged but an early wicket would have still caused a flutter in the Indian camp, given the devils from the past over chasing low fourth innings scores. In the end, Ramesh's back problem kept him out of contention, foisting another interim arrangement, something which the team seems to delight in. Hemang Badani is the latest appointee and good luck to him.
There is a causal relationship between the success of the opening pair and success of the team; in the last 15 years, India has lost only one Test in which there has been a century stand for the first wicket. Opening is a specialist job, yet the refusal to recognise that reality cannot be encouraging. The stark indifference is best symbolised by the lack of effort to groom another candidate who can step into the breach in case injury or poor form renders either of the present incumbents a non-starter.
It cannot be true that Ramesh and Das are so far ahead of the competition. Akash Chopra, Gagan Khoda, Satyajit Parab and Jai P Yadav all had successful domestic seasons. Also waiting in the wings is 19-year-old Vinayak Ramesh Mane whose uncanny resemblance to another Mumbaikar whose middle name he shares is fast making him the hottest contender for the position. But a third opener was conspicuously absent from the preparatory camp in Bangalore before the Zimbabwe tour. The reason trotted out that Ramesh and Das were expected to play both Tests in Zimbabwe was ludicrous to say the least. The presence of Laxman, Tendulkar, Ganguly and Dravid at Nos. 3-6 did not after all prevent the selectors from naming a flotilla of middle order batsmen amongst the probables.
It hardly mattered if the places in the touring party were booked; the opportunity was there to expose a youngster to the methods of the new coach and to just imbibe the whole experience of being in the company of the national team and it went abegging. Nor was the oversight a one-off. No third opener was selected for the gruelling camp in Chennai before the Australian tour in February either, a fact that chairman of selectors Chandu Borde was actually unaware of. It beggars belief but Borde blithely proclaimed at an impromptu press conference that the camp had a reserve opener. Of course he was unable to name the gentleman in question.