West Indies in India 2013-14 November 5, 2013

Opening contests could shape India-WI series

Bhuvneshwar v Gayle, and Roach v Dhawan - these are two face-offs that could prove decisive on the opener-friendly Indian tracks

India is one of the easiest places to open an innings in. The action really begins when the ball is scuffed up, and it begins to turn, bite or reverse. All the more reason the new ball becomes crucial. Whatever advantage you can take you have to take, otherwise the likes of Chris Gayle and Shikhar Dhawan will have looted big time by the time the ball starts doing things. Time to step in, Bhuvneshwar Kumar and Kemar Roach.

The Test careers of Bhuvneshwar and Shikhar Dhawan are young. They have never faced Chris Gayle and Roach in Tests, but these two sets of opening exchanges promise a keen contest going by whatever little these players have played against each other in ODIs. Bhuvneshwar has come across Gayle in three innings, and has dismissed him twice for 20 runs in 24 balls. The numbers for Roach v Dhawan in five ODIs are 56 balls, 49 runs and three wickets.

Gayle's biggest bugbear has been the left-arm quick who takes the ball away from him. Last year when Gayle made his Test comeback, he brutalised New Zealand in Antigua with 150 off 206 balls. New Zealand's response was to bring in the young Trent Boult. In the next Test, both Boult and Neil Wagner got their man cheaply with balls leaving him. India don't have any such bowler in their squad, but Bhuvneshwar comes close.

Bhuvneshwar doesn't have the advantage that the left-arm bowler has - making Gayle commit and then leaving him against the angle - but he still consistently takes the ball away, and makes batsmen play. In the only Test series that Bhuvneshwar has played, he was left alone 55 times out of the 384 times he bowled, a rate of 14%. James Pattinson and Ishant Sharma, by comparison, were left alone 17% of the times they bowled, and Peter Siddle - accuracy and making the batsmen play his USP - was left alone 12% of the times. Only 9% of Bhuvneshwar's deliveries were too wide, as opposed to Ishant's 11%.

One series is a small sample, but Bhuvneshwar is on the desirable side of accuracy. And then he almost always gets movement with the new ball. There are fewer easy leaves with Bhuvneshwar. Gayle likes those easy leaves at the start of a Test innings. Both the times that Bhuvneshwar has got Gayle out in ODIs is through staying close to Gayle's off stump and then getting the ball to move away upon pitching. Caught by first slip once, caught by the keeper once.

"He has been someone who's given us good starts with the new ball, even on wickets that were not helpful for fast bowlers," said MS Dhoni of Bhuvneshwar Kumar. "It is important that we start off well with the new ball. Those one or two wickets with the new ball always help. It always helps the spinners."

With Dhawan, in his short international career, weaknesses haven't yet become apparent. Before he came onto the international scene, he was prone to playing stylish but short innings, ending them with rash shots. In whatever little time Dhawan has spent at the top level, he seems to have overcome that limitation. What remains is the open face on the off-side shots, which mocks the fielding sides with the same regularity with which it connects sweetly with the ball.

Roach, though, has something that can test any batsman: pace. It can sometimes be welcome on Indian pitches, but Roach did make Dhawan hop around a bit in the West Indies during the tri-series. Two of his three dismissals of Dhawan have come fairly early in the innings, the third being when Dhawan holed out after reaching a fifty. Roach will remember he got Dhawan once top-edging a cut and once bowling short when the batsman gave him the charge. Bowlers remember everything. Roach missed the practice game with a shoulder niggle, but he bowled in the nets and is fit, his captain Darren Sammy said.

These contests haven't developed completely, but the opening bowlers of these two sides seem to have got the better of the opposition's opening batsmen. M Vijay hasn't faced much of Roach or Tino Best. And we don't even know who the other bowler bowling the new ball to Kieran Powell will be. Test cricket is different, and it will be a big ask of Bhuvneshwar and Roach to keep these openers, who will be looking forward to this opportunity, quiet.

In a series in which one man will reach 200 Tests and another will claim his 150th cap, these budding contests at the top of the order could well provide the decisive blows before the ball gets old and starts to turn, bite or reverse.

Sidharth Monga is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Android on November 6, 2013, 3:09 GMT

    umesh should only play as a 3rd seamer.srsly he's the fastest ind have &should be encouraged to bowl fast & not line and length.he should be used in 3-4 over spells to really unsettle the batsman.with someone like shami (zak in sa) to clean them up.that's the only way he can be used.if u want there are many better options out there.

  • $$ milind on November 6, 2013, 1:03 GMT

    Being the highest run getter in the last series, Vijay deserves a go. It will be very tough toss up between Rohit and Rahane as both of them have proved their credentials already - Rohit in the ODI series, Rahane in CLT20 both of which are not test cricket. Mohammad Shami seriiously deserves a go in Test cricket back of some suoerb spells against Australia on dead wickets.

  • Nilay on November 5, 2013, 22:48 GMT

    While most Indian fans will pray that SRT never gets out, the West Indians should focus their efforts on the likes of Kohli, Dhawan and Pujara, I think there is a higher price on their wickets than Sachins. Also, the Indian bowlers should focus their efforts on the likes of Shiv, Bravo and Gayle. Based on the curators comments a few days ago, the pitch looks like its going to be a batsmans paradise, lets hope the new ball does offer some movement to the seamers. Hence the importance of the top 3 batsman for both teams cannot be overstated. As for Sachin, he should play the conditions and not the occasion!

  • shalal on November 5, 2013, 22:40 GMT

    @Nutcutlet. Well said. completely agree. We have watched the one day circus-now the tendulkar carnival! I wonder how many care whether four bowlers are picked or half a dozen batsmen play as long as one individual does. Heres hoping that at some stage in the future cricket will mean what it should mean to India and its multimillion supporters. This game deserves a lot more than extravagant glitz and hero worship!

  • Srinivas on November 5, 2013, 19:09 GMT

    5 bowlers is a must - Umesh, Shami, BK, Mishra and Ojha. No place for Ashwin. I know that the capthaan will have some self-destructive ideas.

  • Derek on November 5, 2013, 17:38 GMT

    There will surely be IPL franchise owners trying to get close to Chanderpaul during this series; if only for the pre tournament headlines. I hope Marlon keeps well clear of anyone asking him questions about the squad.

  • Android on November 5, 2013, 17:14 GMT

    india should play shami,bhuvi,umesh & 2spinners ojha ,ashwin.then again vijay doesn't inspire much confidence & pujara hasn't played much intl cricket.this is why imo india really needs an allrounder for good balance

  • Shoeb on November 5, 2013, 17:01 GMT

    rjt00- the best thing about sid's reporting is that he sparks interest with his stylish reporting.. his report of india vs england ct final was outstanding.. pinch yourself!

  • ian on November 5, 2013, 16:31 GMT

    Ah, the bigger picture begins to emerge! This is (and it most certainly needs to be said) a two Test series between nations which offers in prospect a number of fascinating duels. To anyone who appreciates the simple fact that cricket is a team game in which the combatants combine their contrasting skills to the benefit of the common cause, the contests between, say, Keiran Powell & Kemar Roach & M Vijay & Dhawan should provide much good watching. The day cricket becomes little more than a grandstand for any individual (whether or not that individual appreciates it) is the day cricket becomes hopelessly impoverished. Fortunately, cricket, even if it seems to have gone down a blind alley in this two Act jamboree, invariably comes back to the main business: nat. sporting pride & dignity. That is what these matches should be about, although I suspect that I'm whistling in the dark. Sidarth Monga: India's very own antidote, speaking up for reason and a sense of proportion. Thank you, Sid!

  • Sundhar on November 5, 2013, 15:56 GMT

    Sid, are you even sure Vijay is gonna be playing this game? I don't think so, and I hope not. Rahane must be the one, and can tell you he will fare much better against Roach's pace.

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