<
>

The opening conundrum, and spinners in India

Greg Chappell and the rest of the think-tank have come in for plenty of criticism over the last few months for their tendency to experiment with India's opening combination in one-day internationals, but it seems India aren't the only side struggling to get their combination right. With the Champions Trophy starting in a day, and the World Cup not very far away, many teams still seem to be under the opening blues.

India's case is well documented - Rahul Dravid pushed himself up the order when Sachin Tendulkar wasn't around, then decided to drop Virender Sehwag down the order when Tendulkar returned - but the situation is murky for some of the other teams as well. South Africa have recently preferred Boeta Dippenaar over Herschelle Gibbs as Graeme Smith's partner, West Indies moved Shivnarine Chanderpaul up the order, Sri Lanka plumped for Upul Tharanga, Lou Vincent was New Zealand's chosen one, England called up Ed Joyce, while Pakistan tried just about everybody. The table below shows just what a merry-go-round the top slots have become in the last 20 months.

Begin as you mean to go they say, and for most teams, the opening partnership is a good indication of which way the match will go for them. The list below charts out the fortunes of the opening pairs in wins and losses, and the contrast for most teams is stark. England, for example, average 32 more runs for the opening wicket in victories than in other games since the 2003 World Cup, and the difference is more than 20 runs for New Zealand, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and South Africa as well. Also, both England and New Zealand have never lost an ODI during this period when their openers have contributed a century partnership.

The two teams where the openers perform reasonably well even in defeats are Australia and West Indies, so it isn't surprising that they occupy the top three slots in the list of most successful openers in games not won by their team (includes ties and no-results). Chris Gayle features twice among the top three too, indicating that with West Indies the cause of defeat is often the brittle middle order. (To find an example, just jog your memory back to the first match of the DLF Cup last month when, chasing 280, the West Indian openers put on 136, and then saw the rest of the cast fold up for 65 more.)

Adam Gilchrist features twice in the table below, for most successful opening combinations in wins, and it's interesting to see that his average of 49.13 with Matthew Hayden in wins is only marginally more than what they have put together in ODIs which Australia haven't won.

Of the eight most successful opening combinations since the last World Cup, five could be in action in the Champions Trophy, though it's likely West Indies will opt for the Gayle-Chanderpaul combination over Gayle and Hinds. England will obviously miss the ample figure of Marcus Trescothick guiding their top order, but his partnership stats with Strauss indicate just how important the start is to England: in five victories, the pair average a staggering 143 for the first wicket; in 12 other matches, they average a measly 17.25 per dismissal.

Are spinners effective in India
The flat pitches in India suggest there won't be much joy for the fast bowlers during the Champions Trophy, but what about the spinners? Will they have much to shout about? Unlikely, if the numbers below are any indication. Since 2000, fast bowlers give away fewer runs per wicket than spinners, while the economy rate is only marginally higher. Even the Indian spinners have struggled for wickets at home, though they concede fewer runs per wicket than their overseas counterparts.