By Nishad Pai Vaidya
India’s 126-run victory at Hyderabad was their first convincing all-round performance in months. The team clicked in all departments - something one hadn’t seen from them for quite a while till now.
The batting was slow to start, with but some great acceleration in the latter stages of the innings took India to a formidable total on a slow surface. When England walked out to bat, the fast bowlers kept it tight early on and didn’t let them get off to a rollicking start. Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott looked set, but the Indian spinners struck at regular intervals to seal the game. It was the kind of a performance which would most certain have made captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni happy, especially after enduring misery that came in waves.
Now that India have registered their first win in months, their aim should be to maintain momentum and dominate the series. One of the first things that Dhoni could do is to focus on the opening combination. Gautam Gambhir’s positive intent and good performance in the first One-Day International (ODI) would tempt the Indian captain to promote him to the opening slot.
Ajinkya Rahane and Parthiv Patel have done a fabulous job in their time together as opening partners. In England, they showed good application in the initial overs when the ball was moving. They fought out the difficult periods on most occasions and got into their stride one they settled in the middle. Parthiv’s technique against the short deliveries would have made the coaches proud as he would get underneath the ball and play it with all his power. Rahane on the other hand stood out with his textbook approach and good footwork. Considering the fact that it was Rahane’s first international series and Parthiv was trying to establish himself, they did a brilliant job as they showed no signs of fear against a formidable England pace attack.
But all said and done, Gambhir needs to be up there open the batting. Gambhir has opened the batting for India for majority of his ODI career and has delivered the goods at that position. He has scored six of his nine ODI hundreds opening the innings which just highlights his level of comfort upfront. To be very fair, Rahane and Parthiv have done nothing wrong, but Gambhir’s experience at the top will help India get a good start.
Wasim Akram hit the nail on the head when he pointed out that Gambhir should be promoted to the top. “Gambhir is one player who plays proper strokes and with his ability, he can win you matches on his own if he bats the 50 overs,” opined Akram.
Gambhir mixes his game well with the aggressive shots and the singles. He is a big-match player as he can absorb any level of pressure. His vital knocks in the final of ICC World T20 2007 and the ICC Cricket World Cup 2011 bear testimony to the fact.
Gambhir has opened the batting in 71 of his 115 ODIs. His average of 40.45 at the top is very close to his career average of 40.64. But when he opens the batting, he gets more time to settle down. His body language and style of play is very positive and it is just what you need in an opener. It is only the presence of Sachin Tendulkar and Virender Sehwag which has denied him more chances of walking out to face the bowling first up.
In one of my previous articles (Who will open the India innings with Gambhir - Rahane or Parthiv?), I had discussed the possibility of Gambhir opening the batting during the ODI series. If Dhoni decides to open with Gambhir, the question of his opening partner arises. To maintain the right-left combination, Rahane would have to walk out with Gambhir. However, Parthiv has shown the ability to dominate the bowling and he may be the ideal partner for Gambhir to get India off to a good start.
The win in the first ODI will certainly make India buoyant. They looked a cohesive unit and should go from strength to strength from here on. The nightmares in England seem a distant past for Dhoni, who seems to have regained his Midas touch – as a captain and as well as a batsman. And there can be no better news for India than the captain in top gear.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 20-year-old law student, is a club and college-level cricketer. His teachers always complain, “He knows the stats and facts of cricket more than the subjects we teach him.")