Jaffer and Karthik offer an opening
Regardless of what happens in the future, it was refreshing to see India not panic after Wasim Jaffer's twin failures in the first Test. They were clear that the opening combination would not be changed irrespective of what happened in that match, even if Dinesh Karthik, his opening partner, bagged a pair too.
No one knows the importance of a second - sometimes third - chance more than Jaffer. In South Africa, he had had a torrid time before his century in the third Test. By then, he had scored ten runs in two ODIs, got out shouldering arms once, and horribly pulling once in the Tests, much like the dismissals in the Chittagong Test. The two dismissals, then and now, have been followed by sublime centuries under intense pressure. And, because he was not dropped after shots that sometimes end careers, Jaffer has got those second chances and capitalised.
Jaffer stands retired-hurt at 138, a second double-century, and more, on offer. Karthik has made half-centuries in every Test he has opened and past openers must be thinking they could have done equally well had they been persisted with . It's never too late for persistence, though, as Jaffer acknowledged. "I am delighted that the team management was behind me," he said. "Without their backing I would not have played this game and got this result."
What, though, does the unbeaten 175-run partnership with Karthik do to India's opening combination in the long run? Are we on to something? Will this experiment come off? With scores of 153, 0, 0, and 175 not out, the combination seems to have taken on Jaffer's characteristics, at least his tendency to either get out very early or go on to get big runs. Today was only the 15th time in 35 innings that he has crossed 25. But on ten of those occasions, he has crossed 50; four times he has gone over 100 and once 200.
It is difficult to argue against 175 for 0 but one can always play devil's advocate. Just as two failures did not make them an unwanted combination, two successes do not necessarily make them the best option yet. Their styles don't really complement each other. Jaffer is a slow starter, not only in terms of runs, but also body movement. He has shown a tendency to premeditate the leave and he is also an ordinary runner between the wickets.
Karthik is nippier, more restless, and needs to keep taking singles and doubles to keep his score moving. He is an excellent runner and has quick body movement. The lack of smooth communication between the two was evident today. Many a three became two, many run-outs were barely avoided. Between overs, Karthik was usually seen bent over, spent by the running which didn't always translate into runs; Jaffer, on the other hand, stood upright, preserving energy, knowing an easy boundary could be around the corner.
There was a period just before lunch when Karthik was struggling against Mashrafe Mortaza, especially the incoming delivery, and took a painful blow too, just under the thigh pad. But he was allowed to play 19 Mortaza deliveries straight, without scoring a run, without having a conversation to just concentrate on the single and let Jaffer face Mortaza.
But it has only been four innings together. And there is scope for the two to grow together: Jaffer asked Karthik to take first strike today, a sign of growing comfort levels. "I wasn't in any mood to show I am a brave man," Jaffer said. As Rahul Dravid said before the match, it didn't matter whether one was a regular or a specialist; what mattered was runs. That they have got runs together, that they have come for Jaffer in desperate times, that they have spent time with each other out in the heat of the battle should help them forge a partnership. Two century partnerships later, Jaffer is looking forward to more with Karthik. "We are good friends and it helps when you bat together."
Not all good openers have been naturals, not all good opening partnerships natural. Karthik is a fighter, an adaptor, as he has amply displayed before. The two, put together, have just cleared their first test - thanks to the team's backing. England, if they stay together, will be a much tougher challenge for them.
Sidharth Monga is a staff writer with Cricinfo Magazine