Opening Blues




The advent of a newly charged Indian side in the early years of the millennium and their subsequent victory in the first edition of World T20 in 2007, rise to the top of the World rankings in Tests by late 2009 and finally the ultimate crown of World Cup at home in 2011 have all been built about the strength of their batsmen. There are very few sights as fascinating to watch as this Indian batting line up sending the opposition bowlers to doldrums.

 The immense depth of the team’s batting has always been a cushion for their rather fragile bowling attack and all the bowlers had to do was to provide a decent fight to supplement the batsmen. However the case was n’t the same when the millennium began. Even though India had a wealth of four classy batsmen guarding their middle order in tests and some nonchalant strikers like Yuvraj and Dhoni providing imputes in coloured clothing, the completeness was achieved only when the Delhi duo set itself at the top.

With Gambhir’s return to the squad in 2007 and Sehwag finding back his song in 2008; it set a foundation for three year glory led by their rock strong batting line up and Zaheer Khan with the ball. The issues stared post World Cup glorywith the injuries and subsequent loss of form of the openers. The subsequent white washes in Australia and England have been built by the batting failures and the scratchy form at the top has been a headache.

Since 2007, one slot the Indian selectors had no second thoughts in deciding was the openers. The Delhi duo when available was formidable terrorizing the bowlers from any place. Sehwag’s swashbuckling methods were wonderfully complimented by Gambhir’s super strong technique and ability to play subdued support and take the reins as the situation demands. The result was the most productive times for Team India. It gave the time and mindset for the middle order batsmen to set the ship rolling.

But since last year, the worrying causes for Team India have been a plenty. The top one is the form of the openers. Neither Sehwag, nor Gambhir remind us of their original self in recent times. Sehwag being Sehwag goes for some big ones and soon loses his wicket for his arrogance or method of play as one chose to name it. He tends to play the loose ones as usual but has developed the habit of losing his wicket to deliveries that normally will be played comfortably by lesser talented batsmen.

His average has considerably dipped aftermath the World Cup. In tests, his returns in Australia were meagre and recent ones in scores at home against New Zeland was neither good. His average has dropped down to 30 compared to a career one of 50 plus. More worryingly there has been a dearth of tons which he churns out with rather ease.

The ODIs are no different story. He averages marginally better than his career one of 35 but bulk of those has been from one innings of 219 he scored against the West Indies. That apart he had barely managed an average of 20 with just one fifty. The T20s are no different story with an average of just 11 runs per innings (though only 3 matches is all he played).

The surprising element is not that he is struggling but rather he is unable to sustain his long innings game. He does get starts in most matches but fails to consolidate. The strike rate remains the same.

Here are the returns of Sehwag since World Cup 2011.

Format

Matches

Runs

Average

100s/50s

Test

11

612

30.65

0/5

ODI

13

478

36.76

1/1

ODI (Without the 219 innings Vs WI)

12

259

21.57

0/1

T20

03

35

11.66

0/0

 

Comparing it with his returns in Pre World Cup matches shows how big has India lost out.

Format

Matches

Runs

Average

100s/50s

Test

87

7694

53.43

22/27

ODI

236

7760

35.11

14/37

T20

14

313

24.07

0/2

If Viru is hit by dip in form, Gambhir has completely lost it. He has not only lost his form but his game has suffered by leaps and bounds. He is caught fishing outside off stump and loses his wicket to dabs and inside edges. What once used to be his strength (those cuts and dabs to third man region) is now proving to be his nemesis.

It was Gambhir’s entry that fast forwarded the rise of Team India and he enjoyed a golden period from 2008 until World Cup. Since then injuries have added to his woes and runs have dried up. Unlike Viru who still plays his natural game, Gautham seemed to have lost his skill and is now a walking wicket almost. That certainly adds to India’s Pandora ’s Box of troubles.

In Tests since World Cup he averages just 24 against his early fifty averages before. More worryingly he has scored just 3 fifties and no tons since World Cup. The ODI story is lot better with an average of 41.83, marginally ahead of his career one of 40 and he has 2 centuries and 8 fifties. However the number of sub 10 innings has increased considerably with 3 ducks in the period. In the shortest format he still does better but recent form has been alarming.

Gambhir after 2011 World Cup;

Format

Matches

Runs

Average

100/50

Test

12

536

24.36

0/3

ODI

25

1004

41.83

2/8

T20

6

144

36.00

0/1

 

Comparing to his pre World Cup returns, his form in Tests are alarming as the table indicates.

Format

Matches

Runs

Average

100/50

Test

38

3234

51.33

9/16

ODI

114

4073

40.73

9/25

T20

23

621

28.22

0/6

 

Another aspect of India’s headache is the dip in their partnerships. Earlier India had strong foundation laid by the Delhi duo has now become a routine to see the No 3 and No 4 in the crease before 100 is reached. Here is an analysis of their opening partnerships.

They average 31.05 in 18 innings in tests since World Cup with just 5 fifty partnerships; In ODIs their average 45.66, but detecting the one game where Sehwag made his double, the partnership averages a meagre 19.6; In T20s the situation is nothing better with an average of 21.33.

Previously they held their sway and their records were thus: Tests were their forte with a superb average of 59.33 in 68 innings that included 10 hundred and 19 fifty plus scores; ODIs saw them pile an average of 53 runs per innings in around 30 innings they got to open, inching ahead of legendary pair of Tendulkar and Ganguly too. It included 4 partnerships reaching three figures. In T20s too, they averaged 38 runs per innings.

Its quite clear now that the woes for Team India begins at the head. Time is ripe for the selectors to make a rational call. With next big assignments at home coming up, it would n’t be bad to try a different combination at the top and slot one of these veteran batsmen in the middle order. Rahane has been knocking the door for long time. Mukund did a decent job given the tough time at England. Unmukt Chand is a fresh candidate with an Under 19 World Cup win under his belt.

India needs a strong opening combination, now that the middle order is fragile with new comers replacing Legends. Tendulkar, the one link between the olden times and present generation is too at the fag end of his career and may not last long. The likes of Pujara, Kohli and co must be given a cushion to develop their game. For that alone India needs its openers to fire. It makes us wonder, “Is the Opening Blues back for Team India?”

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Author:

Dr.Arvind Subramanian is a Dental Surgeon from Chennai, India. A native of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu he, like most other youngsters of India, he is a fanatic fan of Tendulkar and a hardcore Cricket buff. He has a great interest for Writing and writes on various subjects from Medicine to Arts and Culture to Cricket. He is also a good classical dancer and performs on various Sabhas and Art Centres often and is also an orator He is about to pursue his higher studies in his field. You can find him in Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1409700718

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