India v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Bangalore, 2nd day

Fragile openers a worry for India

The recent failures of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir are a reminder of the bad old days of 10-15 years ago when the No. 3 Rahul Dravid was virtually opening the innings after the openers flopped

Siddarth Ravindran in Bangalore

September 1, 2012

Comments: 70 | Text size: A | A

Virender Sehwag punches one through off-side, India v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Bangalore, 2nd day, September 1, 2012
Virender Sehwag has struggled in recent overseas tours, but his form in India hasn't been noteworthy either © AFP
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One of the central planks of India's ascent to the No. 1 spot three years ago was the stability provided at the top of the order by the free-scoring Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir. For a country that had perpetually been on the lookout for a quality Test opening partnership since the retirement of Sunil Gavaskar in 1987, the reliable Sehwag-Gambhir combination ensured India's vastly experienced middle-order was finally shielded from the new ball.

Since Gambhir's recall to the Test side in July 2008, the pair established themselves as one of the most feared opening partnerships in world cricket. By the end of 2010 they had become India's most prolific first-wicket pair, but since the capitulation in Centurion in December 2010, they haven't put on a century stand and the drought of individual hundreds stretches even further back.

The Australia tour was the nadir, with a highest opening stand of 26 runs spanning eight innings, and Indian fans were reminded of the bad old days of 10-15 years ago when the No. 3 Rahul Dravid was virtually an opener, given how quickly India's top two were easily separated.

That feeling that a wicket was imminent with India's openers at the crease returned again when New Zealand's quicks had the new ball swerving around at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. Gambhir was beaten for pace by the deceptively quick Trent Boult in the first over; New Zealand were convinced they had Sehwag dismissed twice in the second over, lbw off the first ball and caught-behind off the last but Sehwag survived both close calls; Gambhir nicked a away-going delivery to third slip in the third only for Brendon McCullum to put down an absolute sitter, before the shaky opening stand ended in the fourth with Gambhir shouldering arms to a delivery from Tim Southee that took the off bail.

Failing in seamer-friendly conditions of Australia is one thing, but fumbling at home against one of the weakest Test teams around raises alarms. Particularly since three of the India's middle-order legends have retired, to be replaced by three youngsters.

India batsmen over the past decade have found it notoriously difficult to convert a successful limited-overs career into a long Test one. Since VVS Laxman established himself in the Test team in the late 90s, only two Indian batsmen have consistently retained their spots in the Test line-up over several years: Sehwag and Gambhir.

In the new-look Indian line-up, the two are now senior statesman, and expected to deliver the performances that will ease Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Suresh Raina's journey in Test cricket. All three have tightened their hold on their middle-order spots with runs in this series, but with sterner tests lying in wait they would like a better platform than they have been given this series.

While Sehwag and Gambhir's form has fallen away, neither is in any danger yet of losing his spot. Sehwag remains a man who can change a game in an hour, especially in subcontinental conditions, and Gambhir's tenacity in difficult situations, highlighted during the 2010-11 tour of South Africa when he helped save the decisive Cape Town Test, makes him a valuable member of the side.

The question for India is how long they should continue with the same opening combination. When either of them has been missing through injury or suspension, India have tried out a couple of replacements in M Vijay and Abhinav Mukund, neither of whom has done enough to deserve a permanent place. While Abhinav is still a regular in the A squad, Vijay has slipped off the selectors' radar, ignored for the A tour of the West Indies in June and the forthcoming trip to New Zealand. Ajinkya Rahane, Mumbai's domestic run machine, is now the frontrunner for the position of back-up opener, but is unlikely to force himself into the team when both seniors are fit.

One option that had opened up after the retirement of Dravid and Laxman this year was to push Sehwag down to the middle-order, a position that he has long said he wants to bat in. That could have opened the door for Rahane, and also allowed India to groom an opening pair for future overseas tours. Sehwag had a miserable time at the top of the order on the tours of South Africa, England and Australia over the past two years, and his devil-may-care batting approach is perhaps not best suited for those testing conditions. That option isn't available at least in the near future as the middle-order batsmen have all performed in the limited chances provided in the current series.

That means India will persist with Sehwag and Gambhir at the top of the order at least for the England home series starting late October. James Anderson and Co. will consistently ask more searching questions of India's batting than New Zealand's young attack, and an escape from a top-order collapse will be much harder than it was on the second day at the Chinnaswamy Stadium, making a sturdy opening pair all the more important.

Siddarth Ravindran is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo

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Posted by   on (September 2, 2012, 15:22 GMT)

Two batsmen ( Kohli & Pujara) and two spinners (Ashwin & Ojha) alone looked their part for Test Cricket, in this series (unless somebody else proves otherwise in the next two days. Who knows, it could be even just one day). All the rest were suspects. But one needs a XI to play a match. Srikkant... hey, Srikkant... where are you. Don't go away that fast...With so many years as the chief selector, can't you please give us a list to choose the remaining seven, for test cricket?

Posted by   on (September 2, 2012, 14:18 GMT)

Fair point about the openers. Another worry is the No.6 spot. I am not convinced Suresh Raina is the man to fill this. He looked awkward and out of his league in the first innings of the second test, though he scored a half century. It is possible that he was just nervous. It is equally possible that he lacks skills to play test cricket. If it is the latter, he is going to look fine during the home tests only to be exposed brutally in SA. I feel for Badri / Rohit as they look more suitable for the longer format than Raina and are not being given chances.

Posted by crindo77 on (September 2, 2012, 14:17 GMT)

They always were shaky; riding your luck smoothly doesn't mean stability. With Sehwag, his audacious talent is unquestionable but over the years bowlers have stopped bowling to his strengths, and with age diminishing his freakish hand-eye coordination and timing, I think his career graph will steadily decline. As for Gambhir, technical short comings are becoming more obvious; he has a big issue with short pitched stuff, which hasn't been highlighted as Raina has been singled out for that exposure. His gritty attitude gone, ODI shots have become his mainstay, which frequently gets him clean bowled in Tests. But then the BCCI have never really planned for or invested in Test cricket. With Sehwag, they got a maverick who worked beautifully, and it was all good while it lasted, thanks to Dravid at no 3. Now that the party is coming to a close, be prepared for some well organised chaos in Test batting.

Posted by   on (September 2, 2012, 14:13 GMT)

Advantage NZ. With almost two full days in hand, and with Southee & Patel in good form, Taylor can go for broke and set very aggressive fields. In fact, that is the only choice he has. Defensiveness on his part will be walking into opponents' hands. At least, the two Indian openers from Delhi had been notorious to oblige to such tactics. Sachin looks as if he can't help obliging. Hope, not this time, you three (saying this out of frustration). I am looking for THAT Gouti who did a 'Dravidian' batting in New Zealand, on tougher pitches, not too long ago! If India doesn't get the last wicket without much ado, and its top four doesn't win it for India, in my role as an Indian supporter, I will be disappointed. But, if NZ wins, I will not cry for two reasons. 1. The good boys from NZ who is playing good cricket t the moment deserve it. 2. It may wake up those who take decisions for Indian cricket.

Posted by   on (September 2, 2012, 14:02 GMT)

Wish, that there is Wimbledon or Olympics throughout the year, every year, at least till a God who had finished his wonderful job, find his next wonderful vocation, hopefully around Indian cricket, but NOT in the middle.

Posted by   on (September 2, 2012, 13:59 GMT)

Rahane & Pujara should be developed as the opening pair for tests. All tests to be played in India should be used to blood them in. Instead of throwing them to the wolves in SA, Australia or England. With Rahane, Pujara & Kohli occupying the top three slots, I have hopes for India's test cricket.

Posted by   on (September 2, 2012, 13:53 GMT)

The three senior most batsmen are the 'suspects' in India's chase: Sachin, Sehwag, & Gouti.

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (September 2, 2012, 13:25 GMT)

@MATTY P1979 . ACTUALLY IT WAS 4 INNINGS LOSS NOT 6 . ALSO SEHWAG 'S AVERAGE OUTSIDE SUBCONTINENT IS 36 NOT 30 . CAN YOU PLEASE TELL ME HOW MANY ENGLISH BATSMEN AVERAGED MORE THAN 36 IN SUBCONTINENT . ESPECIALLY THE LIKES OF BELL (WALKING WKT AGAINST SPIN) .ALSO IN LAST 5 YEARS INDIA HAS PLAYED MORE MATCHES AWAY FROM HOME . INDIA PLAYED 53 MATCHES IN LAST 5 YEARS IN WHICH 30 MATCHES WERE PLAYED OUTSIDE HOME . 2007 ENG TOUR(3 TESTS WON BY 1-0 , 2008 AUS TOUR(4TESTS LOST BY 2-1 , 2008 SL TOUR (3 TESTS LOST BY 2-1 )2009 NZ (3 TESTS WON BY 1-0), 2010 SL (3 TESTS DREW 1-1 ,) 2010 SA (3 TESTS DREW 1-1 ) 2011 WI(3 TESTS WON 1-0) 2011 ENG (4 TESTS LOST 4-0 , 2012 AUS (4 TESTS LOST 4-0 ).

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (September 2, 2012, 13:14 GMT)

@BRUEESLS LION . OK INDIA ARE 3 DOWN FOR 50 BUT EVEN THEN INDIA WILL MANAGE TO MAKE 350 EASILY BECAUSE OF THE LIKES OF PUJARA , KOHLI , DHONI , ASHWIN . THAT WILL PUT ENGLAND UNDER A LOT OF PRESSURE CONSIDERING THE SITUATION THAT THEY HAVE TO BAT IN FOURTH INNINGS .

Posted by AvidCricFan on (September 2, 2012, 12:52 GMT)

BTW, SRT, Shewag and Zaheer Khan need to be repaced immediately. Zaheer Khan's age is also showing up. India needs to move on to young pace bowlers and give them chance to blossom.

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