Ind v Pak, Super Eights, World Twenty20, Colombo

The absurdity of making Irfan open

There is no logic behind is using Irfan Pathan as an opener, when there are others better suited for the task

Abhishek Purohit in Colombo

September 29, 2012

Comments: 84 | Text size: A | A

Irfan Pathan took 5 for 25, Sri Lanka v India, World Twenty20 2012 warm-up, Colombo, September 15, 2012
Will Irfan open the batting? How about the bowling? © AFP
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Knock knock? Who's there? Irfan. Irfan who? New-ball bowler? Bowling allrounder? Batting allrounder? None of these. For the moment, opener. If the sight of Irfan Pathan walking out with Gautam Gambhir to open the India innings against Australia does not seal the argument in favour of MS Dhoni primarily being a defensive captain, nothing will. On the day he took what he called one of his toughest decisions, Dhoni effectively nullified the rare selection decisiveness he had shown in leaving Virender Sehwag out by having Irfan open.

Irfan is no Shane Watson. He has a decent technique and can hit a few big shots, but he is nowhere close to being Twenty20 opening material. It was immaterial how many runs Irfan actually got against Australia. For the record, he made one of the scratchiest thirties you'll ever see. But it was never about how many runs Irfan could have scored anyway. He was opening not because Dhoni thought he was the best opener in the selected XI, but because Dhoni did not want any of his middle-order batsmen to. He was opening because Dhoni did not want Irfan to bat at No. 7, a position where normally Dhoni himself or Suresh Raina bat. It was the height of defensive compromise to needlessly cushion a brave, by Dhoni's standards, selection decision.

Dhoni invests a lot in setting an innings up for a final assault. It is evident in the way he bats, content to play out several dot balls initially with the confidence that he or someone like Raina can make up at the death. At times, he has been criticised for leaving it for too late, for letting the pressure build up. Gambhir made the point in the Australia tri-series earlier this year that Dhoni should not have taken the chase till the final over in an ODI against the hosts.

Whether Gambhir or the world agrees with Dhoni or not, that is the way he has approached limited-overs cricket increasingly over the years, and his record shows he has mostly been successful, especially in ODIs. The point is, can the need to have a potent batsman at No. 6 or No. 7 justify fiddling with the opening slot, especially in a format where there is little time to recover from a diffident start? The bigger point is, Dhoni's most-eggs-in-the-death-overs-basket batting strategy does not suit T20s as much as it suits ODIs. There is a limit to how much damage even the best finishers can cause in a T20 because of the sheer paucity of time in the format. That is why most sides have their best batsmen opening in Twenty20 internationals. Watson and David Warner for Australia, Chris Gayle for West Indies, Tillakaratne Dilshan and Mahela Jayawardene for Sri Lanka, Tamim Iqbal for Bangladesh.

India had opened with Irfan against England as well, but that was an inconsequential game, and Dhoni wanted to give the fringe players in his squad a chance. But against Australia in the opening game of the Super Eights, a stage where India have famously struggled in the World Twenty20 in the past?

Will Irfan open against Pakistan as well? India had an optional nets session today at the beautiful Colts Cricket Club ground in Colombo for which the entire squad turned up. Most of the time was spent in playing a lengthy game of football after which a few batsmen practised in the nets for a short time. Sehwag was not one of them. Irfan was.

If Sehwag plays against Pakistan, the Irfan debate ends there. If Sehwag is left out again tomorrow, there is no justification in having poor Irfan open. It is not as if there is no one else in the middle order to do the job. Virat Kohli can and has done it before. If India feel he is too valuable a batsman to be disturbed from his No. 3 position, Rohit Sharma is another man who has done it before.

Will Irfan get the new ball tomorrow at least? Don't bet on it. He came on in the 10th over against Australia.

Abhishek Purohit is an editorial assistant at ESPNcricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by   on (September 30, 2012, 13:33 GMT)

Next World cup line up should be Dhawan, Gambhir, Rahane, Virat, Raina, Manoj Tiwari, Unmukt Chand, Ambati RAYDU (WK), Ashwin, Iqbal Abdulla, Yadav, Awana, Varun Aaron.

Posted by AusieBangaleeShameem on (September 30, 2012, 13:29 GMT)

Dhoni is a smart captain cool --- he knows that "Sehwag_Is_Ordinary". So he left Sehwag out -- a very good move!!!

Posted by Bota on (September 30, 2012, 12:56 GMT)

India come HOME back :-). So bye bye!

Posted by lense on (September 30, 2012, 12:38 GMT)

Spot on. India is loosing mainly because of defensive approach by dhoni. His approach to batting is wrong, i say that even when he spectacularly finished some matches, most of which he should finished without much fuss. I am not totally against dhoni but if india really wants to be a top side then we cant have a captain who is defensive.

Posted by   on (September 30, 2012, 12:26 GMT)

MSK has to drop Harbhajan & Chawla and bring back balaji & shewang….use yuvraj as the second spin option… Irfan is not at all a good option to open an innings in T20, sometimes he bats , but 31 runs from 30 ball and all is not at all good enough in T20, more than that even this 31 runs also not always guaranteed from irfan.. if its shewang who faces 30 balls (also not always guaranteed ), but definitely it will be a different story…

Posted by Cric_info_pak on (September 30, 2012, 12:03 GMT)

india will win today as rehman malik is coming to recue india

Posted by kevindouglas on (September 30, 2012, 10:56 GMT)

Hi fans, No" worry" today, India is going to win both theremaining matches in the super eight.This is an astrological prediction!!Good luck Doni and co.

Posted by cricvoice on (September 30, 2012, 10:32 GMT)

Irfan has already proved that he is one of the best available all rounder in Indian cricket, but still people like Abhishek purohit did appreciate him instead of he is comparing with Shane watson and degrading his Indian all rounder, if you want to compare compare the captaincy between shane watson and Dhoni ?

Even I have seen cricketer like Madan lal and Ashok Malhotra didn't accept Irfan as all rounder, and have created a new terminology - batsman all rounder and bowler all rounder. What i have learnt that all rounder is all rounder, either you say all rounder or batsmen or bowler but Indian experts commentors need more maturity to judge their Indian players with equal eye.

Posted by S.N.Singh on (September 30, 2012, 9:49 GMT)

sECOND TRY: MR. PUROHIT AS YOU ARE COVERING THE INDIAN TEAM FOR CRICINFO, I THINK YOU HAVE TO REALIZED THAT THE IS A WORLD CUP 20/20 AND INDIA IS I DOWN. THEY ARE NOW FIGHTING FOR SURVIVAL. THE FIRST GAME WAS A DISASTER. AND YOU ARE INSIGHTING THE PUBLIC, TO GET INDIA TO DO THE WRONG THING. THE LAST GAME I WOULD NOT HAVE GONE IN WITH CHAWLA. I WOULD HAVE GONE IN WITH THE NORMAL TEAM. I THINK INDIA SHOULD GO THIS TIME WITH THEIR INTERNATIONAL SELECTION, LEAVING OUT CHAWLA AND BRING BACK SEHWAG. I HAVE SAID A FEW YEARS AGO THAT INFAN PATHAN CAN BAT AT ANY POSITION. IF OJHA WAS IN THE SIDE I WOULD SAY TO GO WITH FIVE BOWLERS. CHAWLA IS NOT TOP CLASS.

S.N.SINGH USA

Posted by Mob_King on (September 30, 2012, 9:16 GMT)

Irfan Pathan

James Franklin

Albie Morkel

Steve Smith

Seems like every team's got one!

Comments have now been closed for this article

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Tournament Results
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West Indies won by 36 runs
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