Who will open with Virender Sehwag? April 8, 2004

Yuvraj or Chopra? - India's selectorial dilemma

Yuvraj Singh put India's team management in a spot by making that first-innings century. Will he open the batting now? © AFP
Yuvraj Singh has complicated the selection of the Indian team for the third Test by playing a blinder in the second Test. His maiden Test century came when India were in deep trouble. From 147 for 7, Ifran Pathan and Yuvraj took India towards respectability, to 287 all out. His innings has made it difficult for India to leave him out of the team for the final Test. Yuvraj came into the team as a replacement for Sourav Ganguly, who suffered a back injury during the one-dayers. Ganguly has since recovered fully and has arrived in Lahore.

Ganguly's return has meant that India have to leave someone else out of the side if they are to make room for Yuvraj. And, cruel as it may seem, Aakash Chopra is the man likeliest to get the axe. Chopra has done remarkably well at the top of the order since he made the Test team. He was asked to do a job - blunt the new ball and see out the tricky early spells when the pitch and the fast bowlers are freshest. His solid defence, coupled with a seemingly unlimited patience and the ability to leave the ball alone for long periods, made him the ideal foil for Virender Sehwag.

Sehwag and Chopra have opened the batting together in eight Tests now: two home Tests against New Zealand, four away against Australia and now two in Pakistan. In these matches they have posted four 100-run opening stands, the last of which was 160 at Multan. India has lacked this very consistency at the top of the order, since the time Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chouhan (3010 runs at 53.75) opened the innings. There was a brief period when Sadagoppan Ramesh and Shiv Sunder Das did well (836 runs at 44), but that did not last long. Chopra and Sehwag have been together for only eight Tests, but six of those have been overseas, and it is noteworthy that three of their 100-plus stands have come abroad, of which the lowest was 123 at Melbourne. Before the start of the second innings of the second Test, the Chopra-Sehwag combine had racked up 849 runs at an average of 80.64

Before the start of the Test series, John Wright conceded that the opening conundrum was an interesting one. With no reserve opener in the squad it was assumed that Yuvraj would play the role. But, as Wright explained, India might be considering other options. "It's an interesting question. We had a reserve opener in Australia, but the selectors didn't think it fit to pick one here. That means -- unless I can convince Rahul Dravid or someone else of the experienced four -- that Yuvraj may have to fulfil that role. Or maybe Parthiv Patel. It is an interesting situation, we've just got to hope that [Virender] Sehwag and Aakash [Chopra] carry on the good form."

Now, the form of the openers is not in question, but, if Yuvraj has to fit into the playing eleven, then it is likely that Chopra will miss out. Whether Yuvraj will come into the side as an opener, or as a middle-order batsman, with Patel opening, remains to be seen. The thought of a double-barreled attacking partnership in the form of Sehwag and Yuvraj is a spectator's delight.

Anand Vasu, an assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo, will be following the Indian team throughout this series.