Aakash Chopra
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Former India opener; author of Beyond the Blues, an account of the 2007-08 Ranji Trophy season

In search of India's next Test openers

Why have India been so dismal in Tests abroad recently? First up in a four-part analysis: does the opening combination need changing?

Aakash Chopra

June 18, 2012

Comments: 81 | Text size: A | A

Ajinkya Rahane punches the ball off the backfoot, South Zone v West Zone, Duleep Trophy final, Chennai, 1st day, February 5, 2009
Ajinkya Rahane was picked as a reserve opener on India's tour of Australia, but he batted at No. 3 in the first two games for India A in the West Indies Sivaraman Kitta / © K Sivaraman
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After India's disconcerting 0-8 scoreline in overseas Test matches in 2011-12, there were calls, especially in the social media, to boycott the IPL. Indian cricket was at its lowest ebb and abandoning the IPL seemed to many the logical choice. It was commonly believed that India's abysmal showing overseas was thanks to the eight-week-long T20 extravaganza. But like I said back then, while it's fine to ignore a tournament as a show of displeasure, it's hardly the solution to India's problems.

To look for answers one will have to eventually dwell on the vexing issues that led to India's poor performance. The question we must answer is: what can be done to plug the holes that appeared in that wretched period away from home?

In this four-part series, I shall attempt to identify the problems, look for possible solutions, and try to anticipate the dilemmas they may encounter in the foreseeable future.

Since openers are entrusted with the job of laying the foundation, it would be fair to start there. Going by their overall career statistics, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir were considered among the strongest elements of India's batting line-up. So it was quite unexpected when they turned out to be one of the weakest links overseas during this period. Sehwag averaged 21, Gambhir 29, and Abhinav Mukund, who filled in for Sehwag, also averaged 21. These unflattering numbers were perhaps one of the major reasons for India's poor showing. It's also worth bearing in mind that Sehwag hasn't scored a Test century outside the subcontinent in over four years, and Gambhir hasn't scored a Test hundred anywhere in the last two.

It would be easy to continue with the same combination for the home season, for Sehwag and Gambhir are likely to find form on Indian pitches. Or India must choose to invest in an opener (or two) likely to succeed away from home, which means the selectors will have to find a batsman with the technique and temperament to succeed on pitches that have bounce, pace and lateral movement. What are the available options?

Ajinkya Rahane
Since Rahane was selected as the reserve opener for India's tour to Australia, it's fair to assume he's next in line to fill the opener's slot. While his technique against the new ball in the longer format hasn't been tested, his temperament to score big runs and his ability to occupy the crease are well documented in his first-class stats. The only problem with Rahane is that he has always batted at No. 3 and hence might find opening a little different, if not tough. But if Sehwag could make that adjustment, the selectors have every reason to believe Rahane can too. It's odd, though, that while he is an opener in waiting, Rahane has opened for India A in only one game of their current tour of the West Indies. Does that mean he's no longer in the race for an opening slot but instead for the spot vacated by Rahul Dravid?

Abhinav Mukund
He didn't set the world on fire in his first few outings for India but Mukund can be given the benefit of the doubt for two reasons: he played all his Test matches away from home, which can be quite daunting, and it shouldn't be ignored that he scores runs by the ton in the domestic circuit. Does that make him a legitimate candidate for the Test spot in the immediate future? I may be a sceptic but I wouldn't put my money on him, not for now. Despite the runs he gets in domestic cricket, he'll only succeed outside the subcontinent if he makes radical changes to his technique. His initial movement makes him go deep inside the crease before the ball is bowled, and that turns him into easy prey for swing bowlers. Early in his innings, thanks to his non-existent front-foot stride, he's often susceptible to getting lbw decisions to balls slanting in to him and to edging the full length away-going deliveries. He's comfortable against short-pitched deliveries but international bowlers don't take long to figure out that if pitching the ball up can do the trick, there's no point in bending the back too much.

Shikhar Dhawan
I wouldn't have put his name in the list of prospective openers if he wasn't playing for India A in the West Indies. Dhawan is a talented player who bats with a lot of flair, but his technique isn't tight enough to succeed in trying conditions in the longer format. His first-class career graph highlights a sequence of big scores followed by prolonged barren patches, which indicates that his scoring depends a lot on form/momentum and not so much on technical prowess. Since I've watched him from close quarters, I can say with some authority that his only response to poor form is to go on the offensive, which may not be such a bad thing in shorter formats but doesn't always work in the long format, especially for an opener. Scoring one century every ten first-class innings isn't a Test selection performance. Even his current selection in the A squad seems to be influenced by what he did in the IPL, because he had a rather ordinary first-class season last year.

I would have added M Vijay to this list if not for his lack of growth in first-class cricket. He started as a good Test prospect, with a decent technique and a penchant for occupying the crease for long. But his last few successful seasons in the IPL have changed the way he constructs his innings in the long format. Earlier, he used to bide his time at the start of an innings, but now he's consumed by the need to dominate the bowling come what may. The conditions may demand caution but he struggles to find that gear in his batting. I wish someone could work on Abhinav's technique and Vijay's temperament because the shortage of quality openers in the domestic set-up demands these two find the right path.

Vineet Saxena scored his maiden first-class double-ton, Tamil Nadu v Rajasthan, Ranji Trophy final,Chennai, 1st day, January 19, 2012
Players like Vineet Saxena, who do well in four-day cricket, will never catch the eye of IPL franchises © K Sivaraman

It's unfortunate that despite fielding 27 teams in the Ranji Trophy, we can't find more than a handful of openers equipped to fill the Test slot. This is because young openers like Unmukt Chand, Akshath Reddy, Sarul Kanwar and Tanmay Srivastava play a shot a ball (even in four-day cricket) and find it tough in trying conditions because they don't have defensive gears anymore. This new brand of batting emerged with the IPL but largely went unnoticed till now because there weren't any places that needed to be filled in the Indian Test line-up. Now we need options but there are few because to bat in the traditional mould means sacrificing an IPL contract.

Vineet Saxena, the second highest run scorer in the Ranji Trophy last season, is a prime example of a player an IPL team, quite rightly, will not want: he has a strike rate of 40. Why would a youngster spend (read waste) time to know where his off stump is, leave the ball alone and play late when his peers get immediate gratification by playing fearless cricket?

These are tough times and it's important to make the most of our scarce resources and give Rahane and Co a dry run in familiar conditions. Once the selectors identify a suitable opener, he should be given an extended run for the next few Test series in the subcontinent before trying him against South Africa in 2013.

I shall discuss the middle order in the next column.

Former India opener Aakash Chopra is the author of Out of the Blue, an account of Rajasthan's 2010-11 Ranji Trophy victory. His website is here and his Twitter feed here

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Posted by Raki99 on (June 21, 2012, 19:44 GMT)

Its gone take long time before we unearth another laxman and dravid.( Player like sachin only comes once a century so forget about replacing him) IPL has created the Hoopla which every young talent want's to join. Why play like dravid when you can play like Yusuf pathan and make millions. Chnage would come only after India starts losing at home too and next year you would start seeing this too. Mark my words India would lose and home series to both england and Australia. We don't have any quality spinner in our ranks any more.

Posted by Nampally on (June 21, 2012, 18:08 GMT)

@arya_underfoot:Yes Gavaskar's record against vastly superior pace quartet was simply stunning - 774 runs total @ 154 average, in 4 tests in WI. This included 3 centuries + 1 double century + 3 scores in 60's.He was making his test debut at 21 !. We talk of openers now who have wrong technique. Gavaskar had perfect defence & technique with immense concentration. Which Indian batsmen can boast of that now? To get big scores these are the essential attributes. Sehwag scored heavily with his own improvised technique/footwork with good hand eye coordination which appears to work on Indian pitches only. His technique failed him in Australia & in England. Tendulkar & Dravid have a technique nearest to Gavaskar. Amongst the new talent, only Pujara has Gavaskar like defence & technique. With experience, he is the most likely guy to take over Dravid, Tendulkar & Gavaskar's role. India need more batsmen with sound fundamentals to be dominant again. Rahane &Tiwary need to work on their footwork.

Posted by arya_underfoot on (June 21, 2012, 12:32 GMT)

india has only produced two world class openers in its entire history, gavaskar and sehwag, both freakish talents of different varieties. these two have risen to prominence despite, rather than because, of an inadequate domestic competition. the ranji trophy has produced several openers with prolific statistics, all of whom have failed at the test level. in recent times, there are guys like ramesh, jaffer, das and gambhir who're all very successful ranji openers and all have flopped in test matches. gambhir admittedly has put in some good home performances, but look at what he has achieved against the better bowling attacks. compare this to gavaskar's record against the west indies pace quartet.

the system is setting these guys up for failure. india needs hard, bouncy and green pitches to be prepared for ranji matches to force the batsmen, particularly openers, to develop their techniques, not just against short balls, but against full swinging and cutting balls.

Posted by karthik_raja on (June 21, 2012, 8:59 GMT)

@Posted by Nampally on (June 20 2012, 16:32 PM GMT). Completely agree. India's dismal performance in Eng is due to following reasons. 1.Lack of practice matches/Not enuf time to adapt to conditions. 2.Injury to key players(almost every1 suffered injuries during the tour) 3.Bad(if not worst) bowling resources. Even though BCCI reported as "no postmortem required", they know these facts and they did their best 4 Aus tour by sending fit and correct players(i repeat, correct players) as early as possible. Bt this time, players failed. Sometimes it happens. I also have a feeling that if v had decent results in Eng, v wud hv played much better in Aus. I like the way u said abt performance of SRT, Dravid and Kohli. Very true. They played best shots, bt lacked long innings(esp SRT in Aus). Instead of blaming on past failures(which anti-Ind fans wud take care of), lets move on and support our Team. Last, don't shout 4 anyone's retirement(esp after recent Ind-A tour) juniors r gud, bt not ready

Posted by Naresh28 on (June 21, 2012, 8:00 GMT)

Well said Nampally. The experience is definetly vital. Right now India need to find a good bowling unit and two good openers. Shewag and Gambhir poke and get out. Pujara looks sound enough for test cricket. Fast bowlers from India lack stamina and wilt quickly - so if dont get early wickets - then the game slips from us. The opposition knows this. Cricketers in India stand up there vacancies but no takers!!!!

Posted by Meety on (June 21, 2012, 5:20 GMT)

Plan for improving India's success overseas, simply; Prepare pitches with grass on it. Try & engineer some pace & bounce & magically you have conditions where young Indian cricketers will want to bend their backs domestically. Batsmen will then be tested by conducive conditions for bowling. This does NOT mean ALL INDIAN pitches need to be this way, but SOME should. ATM - who would want to be a fast bowler from India?

Posted by Bruisers on (June 20, 2012, 18:24 GMT)

@Swapnil Agarwal - What I meant by "a couple of failures" was "a couple of series defeats".. Fans need to remember that the same team won a Test series in WI and drew one in South Africa earlier that year. Why don't people talk about these two series?? For that matter every team performs brilliantly at home and struggles overseas. Best example England getting a 3-0 whitewash against Pakistan after beating India 4-0 at home.. Now Pakistan will get whitewashed in Sri Lanka, mark my words. Its all about home advantage. If the same England or Australian team tour India for 4-match Test series, then I doubt either of them will be able to win a single game. Test cricket has become so predictible and boring with this HOME ADVANTAGE factor.

Posted by Nampally on (June 20, 2012, 16:32 GMT)

Aakash, Your first question "Why have India been so dismal in Test abroad recently " was posed to the BCCI after the Australian test series. BCCI simply shrugged their shoulders & said Our batting failed. The fact is the Indian bowling is the weakest in all major playing nations. Added to that India lost key players in England series either to injuries or being put on the field in unfit conditions. In Austrtalia, India's top & middle order batting failed but the bowlers did half decent job in at least 2 tests which India could have won but for poor batting. Gambhir & Sehwag scored most of their runs with the same strokes of flashing at the balls outside the off stump on Indian wkts. But on bouncy Aussie pitches, the same stroked were fatal.Tendulkar, Dravid & Kohli (later) all played reasonably well but lacked long innings. So real issue is batting under foreign conditions. India A Tours abroad is right approach to tackle this problem & develop young talent provided right guys are IN.

Posted by Nampally on (June 20, 2012, 13:32 GMT)

Footwork, Technique, Judgement & patience are the required milestones of a Test opener. India would benefit a lot by sending some of its promising openers to England on a contract basis to play in county cricket. There is no other country where the ball swings as prodigiously or seams as much as on English pitches. That is the only sound way to develop a few good openers for India. India should select about 4 to 6 good potential young openers & send them on contract to English counties for a couple of seasons. They will come back much improved in all the above requisites for an opener. This is the only way to develop a good opener. After Gavaskar, India has not found an opener with requisite requirements. Match temperment comes with experience. It is futile to expect some great opener will land from above. Old fashioned cricket of fundamental needs of an opener no longer exist to succeed in T-20 IPL brand of cricket. You cannot develop another Gaqvaskar without a lot of effort!.

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 11:23 GMT)

@bruisers - you call 8 consecutive test defeats as couple of failures? When was the last time you heard any team (other than zimbabwe, WI, bangladesh) losing that many tests in a row? And that especially, a number 1 test team?

Posted by   on (June 20, 2012, 8:06 GMT)

A good insight. But personally, i feel Rahane has to open with Gauti and Pujara should bat at no. 03 and Sehwag moving to No.05/06. Dhawan not suited for test matches. One point, which i disagree with Akash is that M Vijay too has significant technical problem. He struggles against good fast bowlers. He is always late in playing shot against good fast bowlers. In T20,M Vijay murders average bowlers and play cautiously against good fast bowlers.

Posted by Bruisers on (June 20, 2012, 3:39 GMT)

And all those asking Sehwag and/or Gambhir to bat in the middle-order have totally lost it. Who will open if they bat down the order? Mukund? Dhawan? The first one is suited to play only domestic cricket and the second to play limited-overs. Viru-Gauti is the best combination you can get. And some are bashing the senior players for not allowing the youngsters into the team. To those guys, PLEASE REMEMBER THAT IT WAS THE SAME SENIOR PLAYERS WHO TOOK INDIA TO NO.1 POSITION AND KEPT THERE FOR MANY MONTHS. Agreed Laxman's time has come now but don't blame everyone for no reason just because of a couple of failures..

Posted by Bruisers on (June 20, 2012, 3:31 GMT)

@Abhijeet Kushe - Parvinder Awana in Ranji Trophy 2011/12 - Matches: 7, Wkts: 35, Avg: 25, 5w: 3.... And you are saying his IPL performances earned him the spot in the A team. If IPL performances were considered, then Shahbaz Nadeem would have got picked ahead of Akshay Darekar.. Similarly someone else would be in the team instead of Abhinav Mukund, Shami Ahmed, Jalaj Saxena and Robin Bist for that matter. Don't blame the selectors for picking the team. Blame the players for underperforming.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2012, 23:32 GMT)

As a West Indian. I'm disappointed that we lost the ODI series against England recently. However, in our topic of discussion here, India missed a trick in fielding younger players like Rahane and company during the most recent West Indies tour to India. What should have happened on that tour was that each of the legendary players like Tendulkar, Dravid or Laxman should have played one match each or played together in the last test of that series when the younger guys should have played a test or two. Interestingly, I agree with Rahul Prakash on this one.

Posted by ansram on (June 19, 2012, 21:21 GMT)

@MiddleStump - Is India likely to draw a test outside the sub continent in the immediate future? If the English and Oz tours are any indication, looks like the answer is no.

Posted by Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas on (June 19, 2012, 20:46 GMT)

TBH, the problem is not to find test openers but to find test middle-order batsmen. For now, we need to find an able middle-order batsman who can fill the shoes of Dravid. I'm counting on Pujara to do that toughest job for us. It's our middle-order that's going to see one more retirement in the form of VVS. So, look around for sound middle-order batsmen. Nobody knows when Statchin errmm..Sachin will retire. But looking at his woeful form and temperament to get bogged down during tough passages of play, we need to find one more middle-order batsman sooner than later. All in all we need to find three middle-order batsmen. Pujara is one. Where are the other two?

Posted by india_rulzz on (June 19, 2012, 13:24 GMT)

Well Aakash, A Good Read. But what I will like to ask is are the players bigger than the nation? NOW FREAKING WAY. So my India test Team for any tour home or overseas will be as follow, (Assuming that Laxman has retired) 01. Ajinkya Rahane 02. Gautam Gambhir (captain) 03. Cheteshwar Pujara / Rohit Sharma 04. Sachin Tendulkar 05. Virender Sehwag 06. Virat Kohli 07. Wriddhiman Saha (wk) 08. Murali Kartik 09. Zaheer Khan 10. Umesh Yadav 11. Parwinder Awana / Ishant Sharma / Varun Aaron.

Surprises???????? Neah # 08. Murali Kartik. Check out his record. He is still the best left-arm spin bowler (not darters like others) in the WORLD. # 11. Well, give me a better option.

Posted by MiddleStump on (June 19, 2012, 12:06 GMT)

There is a reason why Gambhir and Sehwag have failed to score runs in the past two years. They have no technique to speak of against the moving or bouncing ball. Apparently the present coach does not watch TV since the commentators would point this out every time they got out. At least Aakash has admitted there is a huge problem. Combine this with the fact that the opening bowlers performed even worse than the batsmen and we have to admit that India is not likely to win a test outside the sub continent in the immediate future.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2012, 8:25 GMT)

Sewag and Gambhir are the best and they will prove it ...just wait for the next tour...sehwag didn't play most of the 8 matches in which india lost....i dont understand why people start critisizing someone as soon as they fail...forgeting what they have done in the past....just wait and watch...both are in form now and will be back with a BANG...

Posted by sony_sr on (June 19, 2012, 8:06 GMT)

I don't see anyone good enough to replace sewag and gambhir. I think both can easily continue for another 3 years without any problems and they are only 33 and 30 resp. Only way is to drop international quality players like sewag and gambhir and give lots of opportunities to players like mukund and rahane to fail and with time develop into good intl players. but that seems like foolishness when you have teh players of teh quality of sewag and gambhir. Even though openers were not brilliant, the main reason for our 0-8 whitewash was the poor reflexes of our ageing middle order. replacing dravid, lakshman and tendulkar are the immediate priority. we must give our young middle order batsmen lots of chances even though they fail.am sure they will develop into world class batsmen. it will be a crime if we select lakshman for newzeleand series.

Posted by S.Jagernath on (June 19, 2012, 7:01 GMT)

I'm glad a guy that understands technique is doing this analysis.Too many others are more on talent rather than technical ability of a cricketer.

Posted by aravabalaji on (June 19, 2012, 3:55 GMT)

When it comes to middle order, Badrinath must be the first choice. The fighter he is, he always comes good when cornered, a quality which is a rarity in the current crop. Please stop witch-hunting and give the man his due. Many of the guys would have frittered away if they have undergone the ordeal that Badri has gone through. Let us not carried away by the clamour for youngsters. Age is just a number.

Posted by Rukky on (June 19, 2012, 3:28 GMT)

what i think is that TEST cricket is the most important cricket in the world. the toughest cricket among all formats. So BCCI should increase the remuneration of Test Contract. By this way, we will not loose cricketers who are good test cricket players but because of IPL contract, they want to play fast and by doing this they are offcourse losing their strength of playing test. I mean we should make Test contract much more than IPL contract. So that Indian Players can think of Test cricket also instead of Making IPL Contract.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2012, 2:14 GMT)

Perhaps Rahane is batting at 3 because they want him to replace Dravid? I think that it would be good to get him into the Test team and give him experience in different conditions, and No.3 is better than nothing. He can get that experience under his belt and then move up to opening when Sehwag is dropped or retires. Gambhir might be dropped, but as an Australian I thought he certainly improved throughout the Australia series, he made an 80-odd in one of the Tests, and seemed to be getting better at playing against the bouncy pitches, so I would stick with him for a while. Another option to bat at 3 is actually Virat Kohli, I think he has the technique and probably the temperament, if he can avoid being too confrontational. I think then that Pujara or Rohit Sharma can then come into the team at 6, probably Pujara.

Posted by   on (June 19, 2012, 1:05 GMT)

rather than blaming BCCI for everything that comes under the sun .. I think the state teams should be held responsible for lack of resources . Such a big country ..so many so called 'Academies' ..we should have atleast 3 national teams in a country of a billion people. Sehwag is a lottery overseas. He is of no use in the field as well. Now that there is IPL . I am all my eyes ( the way some one is all ears) to next 3-4 years to watch the test team develop . I want confident batsmen who ducks for the short deliveries when needed but generally can get on the bouncer and hit . Fast bowlers who actually can bowl real fast ...I dont care what the players do and say off the pitch ..I want a Test team which wants to play test .

Posted by Mr_Anonymous on (June 18, 2012, 23:18 GMT)

I think the following openers need to be given further opportunities. The reason for their selection is that they are all currently under 25 (the first 4 below are under 22) and promising. SuryaKumar Yadav (21 years, Good Ranji Season no. 4) Mandeep Singh (20 years, Had a good Ranji season and carried form into IPL) Unmukt Chand (19 years, Did very well in U19 Quadrangular in Australia: http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ci/engine/records/batting/most_runs_career.html?id=7217;type=tournament, including being captain of the winning side and player of the final) Vijay Zol (17 years, http://www.espncricinfo.com/india/content/story/544643.html) KB Pawan (24 years old, good Ranji Season)

Unmukt Chand and Vijay Zol are in the squad to Malaysia for the U-19 Asia Cup starting next week.

2 of these 5 need to make the next India "A" tour to NZ instead of Mukund and Dhawan for the 4-day matches.

Posted by johnathonjosephs on (June 18, 2012, 22:54 GMT)

@sweetspot, you don't care about Tests??!?? What do you watch then? Only the IPL? ODIs are boring, and T20 INternationals are pretty scarce (and dull). If you don't care about INdia's Test Performance, maybe you should stick to IPL/Baseball

Posted by Mr_Anonymous on (June 18, 2012, 21:31 GMT)

Aakash, let's start with your views on the selection at the start of the tour: http://www.espncricinfo.com/magazine/content/story/563134.html You had picked Abhinav Mukund as an "automatic" choice and he has done extremely poorly. Jalaj Saxena (an "odd" selection according to you) has made more runs in 1 innings than 6 of Abhinav's innings put together and by the way all-rounder Jalaj also took 3 wickets in the only innings he has bowled. Robin Bist the highest run-getter (http://stats.espncricinfo.com/ranji-trophy-elite-2011/engine/records/batting/most_runs_career.html?id=6710;type=tournament ) hasn't done much better (5). It seems to me that domestic cricket is not adequate to prepare batsmen for overseas tours. Since this article focuses on openers, I would prefer S Yadav (21 - no. 4 on the list above) on the next India "A" tour to NZ in place of Mukund. I think Vineet might be a good choice but his age (31) and poor performance of others in the top 5 might make his case weaker.

Posted by siddharth_r2001 on (June 18, 2012, 21:24 GMT)

@yavaid - I disagree with your comments on Akash Chopra's contributions to Indian cricket. Although his career record may not be the greatest when you look at it by itself, but you have to consider the fact that it was Akash Chopra's 'calm' presence at the other end, that allowed Virender Sehwag to go after the bowling and score 195 at the MCG and the famous 309 at Multan. If an early wicket had gone down, it would not have given Sehwag the license to go after the bowling (it's a different story that India lost that MCG test because of the ineptitude of the middle and lower order).

Posted by johnathonjosephs on (June 18, 2012, 20:55 GMT)

Its ironic that India is worrying about new batsman in light of Sehwag/Tendulkar/Laxman's retirement, when they're primary concern should be looking for a couple new bowlers in light of Zaheer Khan's soon retirement. Anybody notice Zaheer is getting injured more often recently? Don't be shocked when a surprise retirement is made (similar to Malinga/Pietersons).

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 20:13 GMT)

All these articles really wont make any difference. The selection panel try out players who have either created a buzz from them in media through IPL or have made a debut for india in T20 or One day a couple of times. Performances in the Ranji are not even looked at.Look at guys like Parwinder Awana , he came in the limelight in the IPL this year and he has found his way in Indian A team. As long as the current selection panel is not revamped India is going way down. It wont be long when the control of Cricket will go back to England and Australia soon in the next 5 years

Posted by Nampally on (June 18, 2012, 19:16 GMT)

Gambhir as an opener on English or Australian pitches is a totally wrong choice because of his tendency to poke at the balls outside the off stump. Sehwag is little better than Gambhir but also susceptible to similar deliveries. So India definitely need good openers for overseas tours who get behind the ball & cope with the swing & Seaming balls.Dravid & Tendulkar have that technique. Amongst the upcoming youngsters Only Pujara gets behind the ball & has patience to deal with a swinging ball. But India needs a good #4 batsman & Pujara is ideally suited for this position & also for the opener- since very few have his technique. Rahane can be turned into an opener although he does not always get behind the ball due to IPL demands. In my opinion if 2 openers are needed to replace the current ones. Pujara & Rahane are the best available ones right now. M.Tiwary is alternate choice. Rahane's #3 spot can be taken by Kohli. I agree with Akash's assessment of Dhawan, Mukund & Vijay as openers.

Posted by gdalvi on (June 18, 2012, 18:48 GMT)

"If you fail to plan, you plan to fail" - this is exactly what has happened to India. Future for India in tests for next few years, if not longer, is going to real bad. Retirements of key players was know for years, yet no concerted effort was made to groom their rightful replacements. Dhoni/Srikkanth acted as mercenaries - exploiting the team pain staking built before them for gains, without any consideration about future. This is why we are here - talking what will happen in future and how inexperienced it looks. Players were taken on long tours - and not given a single game (unless you r CSK/TN). Repeat failures like Yusuf P, Ishant etc. given repeated chances. No attention was given to team composition - how to fix the bowling woes. Dhoni's answer to bowling issue is: "if you can rotate your arms, you can bowl". I think at the end, in spite of all victories, Dhoni/Srikkant will be remembered in same class as George Bush - they left their country in total shambles. Pls Publish

Posted by ansram on (June 18, 2012, 18:45 GMT)

Briliant piece from Aakash. We do lack quality test openers at the moment and it is time to find a new combination. To be honest, there is no good replacement for Sehwag and Gambhir, inspite of their indifferent attitude and showing. And matters are unlikely to improve any time soon. But a change can be tried certainly, give the new combo upto 10 tests to prove.

Posted by kalyanbk on (June 18, 2012, 18:31 GMT)

One thing to note here is the role of the coach Duncan Fletcher. It is very important that he works with these youngsters. A person like Vijay or Rahane have all the talent but do not make it count at the international level. They need someone like John Wright to work with them on the art of building an innings in alien conditions. Same situation with Raina and Rohit. All potential no consistency.

Posted by mukesh_LOVE.cricket on (June 18, 2012, 18:04 GMT)

sehwag as an opener in away condition is a guaranteed failure , its obvious to anyone who watch his game , technique was never his strong point and his hand eye coordination is not going to get any better, even worse , he still thinks there is absolutely no need to change his style , all he says is 'that's how i play'..

Posted by sameer111111 on (June 18, 2012, 18:04 GMT)

With the next few tests played in India, it would be the best time for the Indian team to focus on the future. Bring in Pujara, Rohit and/or Rahane into the team, Sehwag comes into the middle order and bid farewell to Sachin and Laxman. But I do get the feeling that with Sachin, he would not retire on his own, specially with his endorsement deals not getting over till 2014.

Posted by sweetspot on (June 18, 2012, 17:53 GMT)

Akash! It is not as if alarm bells are ringing in the hearts of Indian cricket fans. We know where our team is formidable and we don't care about Tests. This is the blatant truth. While we're enjoying coloured clothes cricket in whatever forms it is thrown at us, once in a while, we don't mind punctuating it with Test cricket, for we have to show some respect to our old masters, but please! We're not dying to see our boys grind out difficult Test wins any more than we want to see movies of great actors from the past in roles of pain and suffering. The writing is there on the wall - Test cricket is on its way out. The nails and the hammers are ready. Just want some of the older guys to jump into the coffin and we will seal it away forever. Again, we want to do it respectfully. But while Test cricket is still worshiped by a few, how about wondering why not many teams win against India in India? The day is not far off when we have 1 Test, 5 ODIs and 5 T20s in a series.

Posted by couchpundit on (June 18, 2012, 17:49 GMT)

MR.Chopra, what do you mean by recently? Eversince one Mr.Gavaskar retired, i know not of a Quality opener in an Indian Lineup. I think it is 25 years since Gavaskar retired.

Oh by the way i am aware of your contributions in Indian team and honestly i dont believe you measured up to International standard.

Funny thing is Indians claim to be a team of batters, more so because we dont have good bowlers who can run through a side on any day unless its a rough patch.

Posted by cheguramana on (June 18, 2012, 17:08 GMT)

Phew ! its a relief to see somebody putting some serious thought abt whats wrong with India's Test cricket. The authorities seem to blissfully unconcerned abt the near-crisis in the Test arena. I am sure they are all congratulating themselves on a very successful IPL V. Aakash may not be right in all his prescriptions, but at least this is the right approach. A couple of months ago, Sanjay Manjrekar also wrote an article abt the most critical need of India's Test cricket. His take was quite different. He thot India's batting will take care of itself in any case and whats critical is that we find, groom and preserve the best fast blowling talent in the country. Aakash's take on our batting resources is a different and unsettling viewpoint. Looking forward to the next 3 instalments from Aakash. May I request the BCCI to at least read all these articles pls ?

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 16:46 GMT)

All the talks about techniques, defense, etc! This next generation of Indian players is going to be better than the previous one. They will start winning more now that the oldies like Dravid are going away, just how we started winning in ODIs after 2007 when dravid was dropped..

Posted by focused_Learner on (June 18, 2012, 16:35 GMT)

Hi Akash, to me this is a very good analysis. I will take this opportunity to thank you for your contribution during the famous Australian tour. I beleive your steady knocks were the main reason of success during the season for India, laying the foundation for the heroics of the other greats.

On the same note, the openers need to see through the new ball. They in-turn demotivate / tire the opponent bowlers which boosts the batting team confidence. Everyone following, thus has a better chance to chip in.

I fail to understand, why people generalize techniques. They seem to develop a intuition that a good batsmen can adapt to all situations, like IPL and Test. We need to understand, those are not good batsmen, they are Great batsmen...only few. And you can't plan to have great batsmen, until they arrive.

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 15:38 GMT)

Akash , you should have started your series in reverse order- from numbers 11 since bowling has always been India's Achilles heel. While the batting has been inconsistent overseas, the bowling has always sucked.

I agree with you that Sehwag and Gambhir should move to the middle order since they still are India's best batsmen. Rahane is an exciting talent but is it good to thrust the role of opening to him? I like Mukund's temperament- it is not too late for him to work on his technique.

Posted by rahulcricket007 on (June 18, 2012, 14:49 GMT)


Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 14:38 GMT)

These two Gambhir and Sehwag played IPL with injuries last year and were least interested in playing for Team India.Had they put atleast 50 runs in every innings we may not have seen this embarrassment.Time to give them one last warning.Or I would be happy to see Rahane and Pujara open the batting!

Posted by Selassie-I on (June 18, 2012, 14:36 GMT)

Point well made earlier, if these guys want to be world class they need to spend their spare time doing seasons in shield and county cricket. VVS, SRT, Dravid, zaheer... all the quality indian players have done this to learn the conditions. Just as some of our young players should be going over and doing a stint in the Ranji while young if we want to have sucess in sub-continental conditions. Everyone used to do this until recently, now the standard of teams playing in unfamiliar conditions has dropped hugely... I wonder why?

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 14:15 GMT)

I don't think batting technique should be the only issue to be addressed. The desire to succeed is as important as technique. Mohinder Amarnath is a prime example. He could not play the short ball well, but then worked on his technique and came back as one of the best players of short ball. Great players like Sachin and Rahul are constantly working on their flaws and trying to correct them. A selector should be able to find someone who is also willing to work on his technical flaws. Rahane, Pujara etc. have good technique, but they are they putting enough efforts to correct their flaws?

Posted by anilkp on (June 18, 2012, 14:05 GMT)

@Siddhesh: This is the problem, friends! We tend to evaluate a player's Test credentials based on his IPL performance. It is not just we fans, but the selectors, administrators and pundits of the game in India also seem to do the same. That is a sure path to self-destruct in Tests. Monga's recent article underlined how the established India Test players, including Sachin, compare the gains in IPL vis-a-vis Tests. You maybe right that Sehwag-Gambhir will do fine in home series. What next? Some more 4-0s? How long will it take, then, for the Tests to die out in India? And, mind you, the openers are not the only culprits; let's first wait for Akash to finish his 4-article series.

Posted by WhoCaresAboutIPL on (June 18, 2012, 14:02 GMT)

An excellent and thoughtful article - those respondents who think all will come good in the end have simply not read it carefully enough... It seems to be that Dravid is the one who must be encouraged to become a Test batting coach - if not for India then someone else will certainly snap him up!

Posted by EnglishCricket on (June 18, 2012, 13:54 GMT)

I can see the future of the Indian Cricket Team once the likes of Dravid (already left), SRT, Laxman etc leave the game and believe me its not going to get better :)

Posted by muski on (June 18, 2012, 13:38 GMT)

Akash-I fail to understand your statement about Vineet Saxena and cathing the eye of IPL franchices.Why on earth should we tempt these guys for an IPL berth when they are still to hatch out of their egg. It is precisely this kind of journalism which confuses these youngsters- only the other day you were talking of someone mentoring the guys. Cant a great 4 day player break into the test team and if he is great test player, there is no reason why all the franchies wont be running to him- ask Dravid and Kallis. Yes there are exceptions like a Strauss or Laxman. That is more to do with their mental make up of not being able to adjust to the shorter version. Let us not lose sleep over that. The list of openers given by you is not very encouraging for the future. Why no Ambati in your list?

Posted by hhillbumper on (June 18, 2012, 12:49 GMT)

Drop Sehwag.Has no talent except slapping poor bowling on flat pitches. Good at thee IPL stuff though so doesn't have to worry.

Posted by Nppinte on (June 18, 2012, 12:36 GMT)

Didn't mukund score a century in seaming conditions during the England tour? I think too much is being made of his so called technical deficiencies. He has not had a long enough run for us to doubt his ability at the highest level .Give him a long uninterrupted run like Kholi and I am sure he will come good. Funnily enough his average in domestic matches seems to have dipped after that after that from 60 plus to 55.. Same case with vijay. He used to be and still is a really good player, but the selectors have messed him up by giving him stop start runs in the Indian team. Looks like the selectors have already done some damage. Sehwag needs to move to the middle order or change his technique.

Posted by sifter132 on (June 18, 2012, 11:10 GMT)

Siddhesh is right, Sehwag and Gambhir will do fine this summer in home conditions. But they are NOT the ideal mid term solution because what happens on the next tour?? The same problems as before... I like Gambhir in the long term in the top 3, but I think his best move would be to play a season in county or shield cricket to sort out his technique. Retaining him now after he was exposed in Australia does not send a good message: to both him AND young Indian players. Drop him and encourage him to fix his game. I'd probably keep Sehwag at the top in the short term, try him with Rahane, Kohli/Laxman at #3 & #5 and someone new at #6.

Posted by HumungousFungus on (June 18, 2012, 10:48 GMT)

There is a more underlying issue here, of course...what incentive is there for a young batsman to work hard on developing a watertight defensive technique that will stand up to examination from pace, spin, and swing on a variety of surfaces, as well as working on the fitness needed to play long innings against such bowling, when the same young batsman can potentially earn hundreds of thousands of dollars a year driving on the up with no footwork, and playing Dilscoops and reverse sweeps in the IPL? If 30 runs off 18 balls on a flat pitch against largely average bowling and fielding in front of hysterical crowds is going to continue to be significantly more financially rewarding than, for example, grinding out 30 runs in a two hour session off Anderson, Broad, and Bresnan at Edgbaston on a damp Thursday morning, then India will continue to permanently under-perform in Test cricket because the significant majority of young players will seek to take the easy option.

Posted by Er-.S.R.shankar on (June 18, 2012, 10:23 GMT)

That is a candid and unbiased assessment of openers in waiting. As all the openers under analysis have been consistent performers in Ranji they should not be just discarded after West IndiesA tour[Where becauase of pitches off late all batsmen find run scoring very difficult ] Some genuine batsmen like Dravid, Aakash, Laxman should don the role of coach/mentor and work on their technique--Despite the criticism heaped on, Murali vijay is very talented[Remember his century against Aussies in company of Sachin] Personally I would prefer Gambir at No.3 as he can anchor like Dravid--With SEwag either Rahane or Vijay should open

Posted by minty77 on (June 18, 2012, 9:12 GMT)

I completely agree that you also need pace bowlers in the attack. With over 1 billion people, there is no one that can bowl over 90mph consistently! But forget about pace for a moment, I don't even think we have a good enough TEST spinner. Ashwin may be good in shorter formats, but he is no Swann or Ajmal, who actually turn the ball and are ATTACKING! We haven't had a world class spinner since MAYBE bhaji in his day (well past it now), but Kumble who could go out and win a test match. I don't see us A. getting over 300 runs an innings aways from home and B. getting 20 wickets. Bowlers can't rely on batsmen and vice versa, we need a balanced side like SA and England. Laxman needs to get dropped, drop Sehwag down to number 5 (and if he clicks we've made well over 300), and choose an opener with TECHNIQUE and stick with him through thick and thin for a few years. Time to rebuild the whole team, much like West Indes!

Posted by Paul.Power on (June 18, 2012, 9:02 GMT)

@ Siddhesh Venkatakrishnan: "And why see only the openers?"

Because it's the first part of a four-part series where presumably he's going to talk about the middle order, bowlers, etc. in later articles?

Posted by Naresh28 on (June 18, 2012, 8:40 GMT)

Obviousily there are two areas India is weak in. The reason for our decline from NO1 in tests. Firstly "Pace Bowling" and secondly are our openers. Rahul Dravid will leave a big hole in the team - but his shoes can be filled by Pujara at no3. Vijay as one openner. Kohli can replace Sachin. We need another openner - Chopra has mentioned Saxena. Why did he not tour to WI? We will never know now unless Saxena is chosen for next A-team outing. Gambhir and Shewag should not open in tests. Chopra should be given the job of training two future openners.

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 8:11 GMT)

Sehwag/Gambhir will do just fine. The pair have shown to be in fine form in the IPL and its just a matter of getting over the bad patch they have had overseas. Lets not overanalyze. Sehwag doesn't belong anywhere else in the order, and Gambhir too is a natural opener. Rahane will make a good middle order bat, and Mukund still has a ways to go.

And why see only the openers? The indian batting failed as a whole abroad, and the bowling was no better in friendly conditions. The fault lies with the team as a whole, which struggled. Lets not make any radical deicions on openers alone, serves no purpose.

Posted by minty77 on (June 18, 2012, 8:00 GMT)

I think the problem is that players aren't getting enough exposure outside India. If India want to be a good test side (and I mean just good, because at the moment they're average), they should send some of its players to English County cricket for a season, instead of playing in the IPL?

Posted by anuradha_d on (June 18, 2012, 7:47 GMT)

Vineet Saxena's problem is not his SR.....or the lack of an IPL contrcat and exposure. It is his age....and inspite of a good last season....he carreer First class average average is only in mid 30s.

That means he has not scored heavily for long enouhg and has reached an age( nearing 32) when it is harder for selectors to see him as a long term investment.

Selectors have generally been fair in their team selection for the A tours.......Bisht, Dharekar and Sami Ahmed....din't play IPL and yet have broken into the A side based on their Ranji show. One more good season and the likes of mandeep and Yadav (of Mumbai) shall be in the reckoning again.

Hence it's not right to either criticize the IPL or the selectors all the time

Posted by anuradha_d on (June 18, 2012, 7:42 GMT)

Dhawan is a slogger...who has struggled EVERYTIME i have seen him bat against any half decent seam attack.

Mukund....has technical flaws.........wanting to play too square on the off side even to deliveries that don't merit such a stroke...gets away when the ball isn't moving or not too fast.

But is easily is beate in even slightly helpful conditions against 135kph+ bolwing.....by the ones that are straight or coming in to him....consequently .LBW or clean bowled too often.

won't cut it....Vijay is far better technically than Mukund

Posted by Naresh28 on (June 18, 2012, 7:38 GMT)

Murali Vijay and should try out Bisla. Both are tall batsman in the Rahul Dravid mould for overseas conditions. Rahane is too short. As said by some Gambhir and Shewag are not good as test openers. Chopra himself is good but has missed his chance with his age. Also Mandeep Sharma has nice technique.

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 7:32 GMT)

sehwag and gambhir can do well in overseas condition as well,they got the ability to do well in testing condition,they done that in the past,they hasn't done well in last 8test because of lack of application aganist the new ball,quality is quality,if they done it in the past,they can do it in future as well,they go the ability to do so,it is just a matter of time

Posted by FAB_ALI on (June 18, 2012, 7:00 GMT)

Murali Vijay not mentioned!!! But I think he has the capability and the technique.... However, he has also been inconsistent like others but deserves more chances as there is no one who really challenges the position. Rahane sure should be getting his chances sooner rather than later.

Posted by jr2012 on (June 18, 2012, 6:44 GMT)

India have always been weak overseas. It's not their batting, it's Indian incapability to produce fast bowlers to win them games. They have been lucky at home where spinners and FTBs can provide some relief. Look at history, India's overal away record is miserable. They have produce any quick bowlers with sub-30 average. India is naturally not aggressive and physical nation to produce strong fast bowlers. Until then India will always play second fiddle in away Tests, especially on green or bouncy pitches.

Posted by mrgupta on (June 18, 2012, 6:30 GMT)

When i saw the batting lineup of India A team against WI A in the unofficial tests i wondered if we are about to take a first look at the future Indian Test Lineup. But after seeing their performance in first 5 innings we can safely say that atleast Rahane, Mukund and Dhawan are nowhere in the frame. Infact i think apart from Pujara no one else deserves a spot at this moment. Rohit Sharma was the biggest disappointment yet again.. The Indian batting lineup for the next Test series should be Viru, Gauti, Pujara, Sachin, Laxman, Kohli, Dhoni followed by bowlers.

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 6:20 GMT)

@joseyesu you r right, WI - A tour shows the clear picture of so called young talents ability. They were no where near the standard. And what was Akash Chopra's ability we all know that!! Akash chopra is analysing the indian cricket, thats interesting haha.

Posted by KishorKumar25 on (June 18, 2012, 6:13 GMT)

Aakash, I thought atleast u will notice a good work done by a Ranji player like KB PAWAN in last ranji season. He is avery good wicket keeper as well as an opener batsman, who can stay at the cease for long time. See his performance in the last season

http://www.espncricinfo.com/india/content/player/277234.html http://www.espncricinfo.com/indian-domestic-2011/engine/match/522933.html http://www.espncricinfo.com/indian-domestic-2011/engine/match/522955.html http://www.espncricinfo.com/indian-domestic-2011/engine/match/522948.html

He is the ideal test material who will always be ignored in IPLs because of his solid defensive techniques. He is far far better test batsman than M.S.DHONI or WRIDDHIMAN SAHA.

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 6:05 GMT)

Why no mention of jaffer and dinesh Karthick both are more than decent openers and not That old

Posted by RyanHarrisGreatCricketer on (June 18, 2012, 5:39 GMT)

Agreed.good to see that aakaash is writing without bias. Because the players he said should not be picked are actually are his fomer team mates.Gambhir can still play at bo.6 because he is a glorious player of spin but awful against new ball. No way Sehwag in the team. I also want to say that Pujara can be tried as an opener though he is a middle order bat cos he is a gritty customer. That will also give a chance to rohit. Anyway Rahane is overrated.

Posted by Aaryabhatta on (June 18, 2012, 5:31 GMT)

Aakash..sadly mukund,dhwan failed miserably on india A tour n rahane is also avg.so far..........

Posted by Captain_Crick on (June 18, 2012, 5:29 GMT)

Rahane and Gambir would be a good choice for openers. Sehwag can play in the middle order in overseas conditions alongside Pujara, Rohit, Kohli and the likes. India's main concern is bowling department and that needs to be addressed first. Batsman lay the platform but it's the bowlers who win test matches for their sides!

Posted by   on (June 18, 2012, 5:27 GMT)

I will put my money on Rahane... The guy has all the technique and temeprament to succeed as an opener. Plus he has a mentor like Rahul Dravid for guidance who has opened for India more often than not. Also would like to see Rohit at no .5 or no.6 till Sachin is there and would also like Sachin and Laxman to play a test alternatively. That way we can give youngsters pujara (no.3) virat ( no.5) , rohit (no.6) enough chance to gain experience and confidence for test level and also they will not be in pressure to fight within themselves for 1 or 2 slot. Plus they will always one senior pro in team for help. Once when Sachin and Laxman are slowly phased out by next foreign tour the new players will be ready for helping India to gain numero uno position.

Posted by Kaare on (June 18, 2012, 5:22 GMT)

The problem is that just as the way future prospects are perceived based on their IPL performances, so are the established players, and by that standard, both Gambhir and Sehwag had excellent IPLs. Moreover, the habits of incumbency and entrenchment in Indian cricket means that no selector will be bold enough to drop either of them

Posted by sandeep.bhardwaj on (June 18, 2012, 5:22 GMT)

If this guy (Aakash Chopra) has such an indepth knowledge of cricketing minds, then why is he not on BCCI radar. I have read so many columns from Aakash and honestly admit his skills. Please BCCI, make him India's batting coach for Test Matches. BCCI has been chosing wrong horses for the wrong courses in the recent past. Why is Sehwag chosen for Test matches (despite knowing his records). As per their own rule they (BCCI) shall prefer Munaf Patel for next three/four seasons if Patel hits four centuries overseas out of Ten Tests. We need an opener who has sound technique, temperament and most importantly is a good leaver of the balls. I love Cook and Strauss for this. They do not even touch those deliveries which are outside off stump and of good length. For them, only short and wide or very full and straight are hittable or simple nudges.

Posted by venkatesh018 on (June 18, 2012, 4:52 GMT)

First choice will be Mukund for atleast 6 to 7 Tests minimum as Test opener. Rahane should be No.3.

Posted by SouthPaw on (June 18, 2012, 4:49 GMT)

Akash: I am happy that you are ready to call a spade a spade. You are absolutely right, there is no opening batsman worth getting into the Test team, let alone 2.

Posted by luks on (June 18, 2012, 4:02 GMT)

Why are Umesh Yadav, Varun Aaron and Ishant Sharma not in the India A team for the West Indies tour. Are they being "rested" after the IPL? Which would be quite sad. Or, maybe they are now considered part of the Indian national team so not eligible for the A team?

Posted by joseyesu on (June 18, 2012, 3:24 GMT)

Whoever it be give them a fair amount of chance(Minimum of 5 Test) in overseas and judge their ability and technique. After seeing the WI - A tour, it seems that nobody is ready to prove their mettle.

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Aakash ChopraClose
Aakash Chopra Aakash Chopra is the 245th Indian to represent India in Test cricket. A batsman in the traditional mould, he played 10 Tests for India in 2003-04, and has played over 120 first-class matches. He currently plays for Delhi in the Ranji Trophy; his book Beyond the Blues was an account of the 2007-08 season. Chopra made a formidable opening combination with Virender Sehwag, which was believed to be one of the reasons for India's success in Australia and Pakistan in 2003-04. He is considered one of the best close-in fielders India has produced after Eknath Solkar.

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