New Zealand in India 2003-04 October 3, 2003

Give Sadagoppan Ramesh more cricket

Sadagoppan Ramesh divides Indian cricket followers like no other man. His supporters bemoan his being neglected despite a Test average of just under 40 and a 50 in his last Test, while his detractors point to a stationary front foot and looseness of stroke-play. But it is understood that John Wright, the Indian coach, has been repeatedly asking for a chance to evaluate Ramesh in a match, and he got his wish only at the fag end at the selection-trial session. Even though Ramesh promptly made his case with a century, is it already too late for him?

To be honest, Ramesh's play has not changed significantly since he made his Test debut at Chennai against Pakistan. His footwork is still close to non-existent and his eye just as good as ever; perhaps his movement onto the back foot is a touch surer.

What has also not changed is his ability to look extremely comfortable at the wicket - on Indian pitches, at least. Against the New Zealanders, he played some spanking drives through the offside, and even better ones straight back down the ground. When Craig McMillan pitched a fraction short, Ramesh viciously pulled him over square leg for six, and then cut the next ball away for four. His strike-rate remained healthy throughout, a sharp contrast to the watchful Akash Chopra at the other end.

Ramesh's abilities at home have never been in much doubt; he negotiated Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis with a degree of comfort in 1999, and his success against Jacob Oram and Daryl Tuffey is hardly an indicator of how well-equipped he might be to face the challenge in Australia, where his average is almost half his Test average. But then, barring Sachin Tendulkar and VVS Laxman in the last Test, all Indian batsmen were humiliated on the tour of Australia in 1999. India, moreover, do not have too many opening options significantly better than Ramesh for the fast and bouncy Australian pitches.

But if Ramesh were to be a contender, selectors have done him, and themselves, no favours by picking him so late. One match is too little to judge a batsman, and unless he is picked for the Tests against New Zealand - which seems unlikely - Ramesh will get no further chances to prove his ability or inability.

His competitors, on the other hand, have had ample opportunities; India A took along a side chock-full of openers - Shiv Sunder Das, Wasim Jaffer, Gambhir, Satyajit Parab and Sridharan Sriram - to England, and all of them have been seen since. Akash Chopra was given two chances against New Zealand because he missed the last A tour and the Challenger Trophy from injury, and it seems incredible that the same benefit could not be extended to Ramesh. It can now be argued that Chopra has a stronger claim than Ramesh by virtue of a hundred and a fifty.

To stay on the horizon - for, in Das, Gambhir, Sanjay Bangar and Jaffer, there are plenty of contenders - Ramesh needs to keep the runs flowing. But to be able to do that, he also needs to play matches.