Have India found a solution to their opening conundrum? The exploits of Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay have presented much hope in the aftermath of the prolonged struggle of the Virender Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir partnership. However, the Indian supporter must exercise caution before passing swift judgments as the new firm will take some time to convince that they are here to stay.
Dhawan’s spectacular introduction to Test cricket brought back memories of an in-form Sehwag. One could see a Sehwag-like fearlessness in Dhawan’s strokeplay and the typical uncomplicated approach. However, what was most impressive was that he played along the ground for a major part of his innings and only took the aerial route once he was firmly set. His footwork was positive and the drives through the off-side were crunchy. He even showed the ability to play the hook and pull when it was pitched short something that will come in handy —when playing on overseas track which offer copious bounce.
To walk into Test cricket with such style is truly commendable as Dhawan warded off all the pressure. Even as he neared the milestone, there were no signs of nerves as he continued to play his strokes. In contrast, Vijay was sedate and cautious. Since his debut, he has been a backup options and this was his first opportunity to firmly establish himself. Many thought of him as a flashy strokeplayer, mainly due to his heroics in the Indian Premier League (IPL), but he has shown a different side to his batting.
It was due to that stereotype that a few felt that Vijay may not succeed in Test cricket. However, at Hyderabad and in the ongoing game at Mohali, he has shown good temperament and sound technique. It is encouraging to see him switch gears as an opener must show the ability to hang around. In their first outing together, Vijay and Dhawan complemented each other well. While one was the aggressor, the other played a supportive role and did not get carried away by the carnage at the other end — something the Sehwag-Gambhir partnership did well during their successful run.
During India’s rise to the summit of the Test rankings, Sehwag and Gambhir were in fantastic form. That shows how important the openers are to a side in Test cricket. In the 1990s, India struggled to zero in on a stable opening combination and often struggled. Fast forward to the post 2011 World Cup slump, Gambhir and Sehwag’s drastic drop in form coincided with India’s slide. The selectors first axed Gambhir and then lost patience with Sehwag — paving the way for the new faces.
India travel to South Africa later this year and the selectors’ move in bringing a change at the top has been taken with an eye on that tour. Dhawan and Vijay’s real test will come in those conditions as they will battle a formidable pace battery led by the dangerous Dale Steyn. Vijay’s strategy of sticking around and playing patiently should help him in those conditions and it would be interesting to see how Dhawan adjusts. The duo has almost certainly booked their seats on the flight to the Rainbow Nation.
The most intriguing question is: What next for Sehwag and Gambhir? At the age of 34, Sehwag may not have too many years of cricket left ahead, but can still contribute to the Indian side. Perhaps a role in the middle-order can be explored as he might strengthen that department. On the other hand, Gambhir has time on his side and is a class act. He would certainly be in the fray and cannot be written off.
Through all that, there is a promising Ajinkya Rahane waiting in the wings. It is imperative to nurture him as he can be a huge asset to India in the long run.
Thus, India have options as far as the opening department is concerned. However, the away tours will undoubtedly determine their fate in the long run and India can only assess the situation once they travel overseas.
Shikhar Dhawan magic at Mohali: Read all the stories here
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site's YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar's dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)
First Published: March 17, 2013, 9:45 am