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November 22, 2008
Nearly nine months out of the one-day game, and into his 20th year of international cricket, the Sachin Tendulkar caravan just rumbles on and, on Sunday, it will give England something different to think about as they seek to stay alive in this seven-match series. After playing a significant role in India's 2-0 Test series win over Australia, Tendulkar opted for some rest, but Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium will see his return to non-IPL coloured clothes.
A man with 42 centuries and 16,361 runs, and who redefined the opener's role in limited-overs cricket, should never have to prove anything but it'll be interesting to see how India re-jig their batting order to accommodate him. Great one-day batsmen have been either relentless accumulators or others impetuous destroyers. Tendulkar has combined both qualities to devastating effect ever since that Auckland morning when India decided to take a punt on him at the top of the order.
Mahendra Singh Dhoni gave every indication on Saturday afternoon that Tendulkar will open with Virender Sehwag, with Gautam Gambhir moving down to the No.3 slot that he made his own during the CB Series in Australia earlier this year.
"I'd prefer it if Sachin opens with Sehwag. We have tried that and you can say that is an option," said Dhoni. "Yes, tampering with a successful line-up is something you have to think twice before doing, but you also have to see the quality of the player coming in.
"Sachin needed a bit of rest and he is the person who knows his body the best. We want him to play as long as possible and whenever he is available he should play. He has played his part in Indian cricket and it's up to the emerging players to get the most out of him. The more he plays, the more it benefits the youngsters."
While some murmurs will be raised about the wisdom behind breaking up a pair - Sehwag and Gambhir - that has had so much success in recent times in both forms of the game, there's no denying that Tendulkar and Sehwag have quite a history. In 83 games together, they have combined for 10 century partnerships and 11 in excess of 50 while averaging 37.93. The only reason the duo didn't attract more attention was because Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly were such an institution - 26 three-figure partnerships in 176 games.
Where does this leave a squad that's won three games on the bounce though? Most captains are loathe to change a winning formula, except for reasons of fatigue, and it'll be illuminating to see whether Dhoni accommodates both Tendulkar and Irfan Pathan - one of the subjects of an alleged selection skirmish after the Kanpur game - in the XI. It's hard to see how Pathan can come in unless Zaheer Khan is given a rest after his recent labours. Munaf Patel has just struck a nice rhythm after being an onlooker for the Australia Tests, and Ishant Sharma will be eying some overs in the middle with a Test series to come next month.
Whose place does Tendulkar take though? Gambhir is comfortable batting anywhere in the top three, while Tendulkar's preference for opening has been well-documented. The man almost certain to miss out is Rohit Sharma, whose recent form has been indifferent at best. In 14 games dating back to the Asia Cup, Rohit averages 20.90, with just one half-century. Suresh Raina has averaged 44.38 in the same period and played some crucial knocks. His effervescence in the field - not that Rohit is a slouch - should also help him keep his place.
The last time Tendulkar and Sehwag opened together, at Sydney against Australia, they aggregated 19. Sehwag took no further in that series [he had made just 81 from five innings] while Tendulkar finished it in spectacular fashion, with innings of 117 not out and 92 sealing a famous Indian triumph. Robin Uthappa, who will no doubt be watching keenly on Sunday, opened with him then, as India decided not to go for a left-right combination.
The behind-the-scenes shenanigans, described as "disgusting" by Dhoni, are a distraction this India team could have done without. There certainly won't be any complacency on England's part though Kevin Pietersen and his bowlers won't be overly dismayed to see Tendulkar. Though Andy Caddick and a couple of others might have the odd nightmare about bowling to him, he hasn't been as prolific against England as he has against others. Though he averages 42.46 over 34 games, only one of those 42 centuries has come against them.
Bangalore hasn't been a happy hunting ground of late either, with his last two outings fetching 2 and a blob. Provided the rain stays away, all that could just be ancient history for a man who has spent his entire career breaking new ground.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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