India tour of England 2014: Opening combinations crucial for visitors
The Indian opening combination did well in 2007, but failed in 2011 © Getty Images
India’s average opening stand during their 2007 tour to England was over 50 and that played a crucial role in their series win that year. Later in 2011, their openers failed, and that too reflected in the result. This time, India need a stable pair as that does make a huge difference. Nishad Pai Vaidya looks into the numbers of previous tours and reflects on what the Indian openers have done in England since the turn of the century.
Gautam Gambhir or Murali Vijay? That is one question that may keep the Indian team management thinking ahead of the first Test against England at Nottingham. For over a year, Shikhar Dhawan and Vijay have handled India’s opening role. MS Dhoni admitted that Gambhir remained their third choice even as India left for South Africa and New Zealand with the two younger batsmen. However, with Gambhir coming in for the tour to England, there is a clamour for his inclusion given his experience. After all, you usually do not want to keep an experienced player of Gambhir’s stature on the bench if he is in the squad.
India have to choose their opening combination wisely. Over the years, that has made a huge difference on tours to England. In 2007, when India had a stable combination, they clinched the series 1-0. But, if one looks at India’s tours to England since the turn of the century, India have had seven different opening combinations. Let us revisit each tour and see what the opening combinations have done in England.
2002: Series level 1-1
Average opening stand: 17
India started off with Virender Sehwag and Wasim Jaffer. Sehwag’s promotion was an inspired act and he instantly performed with an innings of 84 at Lord’s. In the second Test at Nottingham, he smashed a ton. On the other hand, Jaffer failed as he scored only one fifty in two matches and was dropped for Sanjay Bangar. That worked wonders at Headingley as Bangar scored a gritty 68 to help lay the foundations of a huge score. Though there were some good contributions from Bangar and Sehwag, the average opening stand that tour was only 17.
2007: India win series 1-0
Average opening stand: 53.67
Though Gambhir was in the side, India persisted with Dinesh Karthik at the top with Jaffer. Both of them batted very well through the tour and their most crucial partnership came at Nottingham, where they put up 147 that helped India put up a huge score. Their overall average was over 50 and that shows how well they batted in the three-match Test series, which India ended up winning 1-0.
2011: England win series 4-0
Average opening stand: 19.5
India had a terrible tour to England as they were whitewashed 4-0. During the tour, they had as many as four opening combinations. Abhinav Mukund opened the batting with Gambhir in the first Test and they put up a stand of 63, which remained the highest on the tour. Thereafter, Gambhir was hit on the elbow and Rahul Dravid opened in the second innings at Lord’s. With Gambhir still out due to injury, Dravid continued to open the batting with Mukund in the second Test at Nottingham. Sehwag returned during the third Test, but then at The Oval, Gambhir had a concussion and could not start the innings. Dravid then walked out to open the batting with Sehwag. All in all, it was a disastrous tour in all departments.
It is fascinating that the average opening stand in 2002 is lesser than the number for 2011, bearing contrasting results. But, the 2007 numbers proves how crucial it is to have a good start at the top. Jaffer and Karthik had done well that year to see off the new ball and then attack the bowlers when it became a lot easier. This year, Dhawan has his spot and will be the one attacking. But, will it be Vijay or Gambhir walking out with him at Nottingham?
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(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and anchor for the site’s YouTube Channel. His Twitter handle is @nishad_45)