By Nishad Pai Vaidya
While Chris Gayle has mesmerised the crowds with thunderous displays in the Indian Premier League (IPL) 2012, his Indian counterparts aren’t too far behind. Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir, Ajinkya Rahane and Shikhar Dhawan have been absolutely magnificent in the ongoing season and have got their teams off to rollicking starts. With the ICC World T20 coming up in September, the Indian selectors would be delighted to see a strong pool of openers for the competition.
Without a shadow of doubt, Sehwag and Gambhir would be the preferred opening combination. Being the senior-most of the quartet and the most experienced, the team management wouldn’t want to disturb a well-settled partnership. The two have a very good understanding and have opened the batting in all formats for India. Their consistency during the ongoing season strengthens the argument for them to open the batting in Sri Lanka.
One mustn’t forget that Sehwag and Gambhir opened the batting for India during their victorious ICC World T20 2007 in South Africa. In the two editions that followed the 2007 competition, Gambhir walked out with different partners as Sehwag missed both due to an injury to the shoulder. The upcoming World T20 would be Sehwag’s first since the memorable victory in 2007 – that is, if he doesn’t injure himself again.
Coming into IPL 2012, Sehwag would have been itching to perform and put an end to a tumultuous period. After a harrowing tour to Australia, Sehwag was “rested” from the Asia Cup. Although Krishmachari Srikkanth repeatedly assured that he wasn’t dropped and was merely rested due to a niggle, one couldn’t ignore Sehwag’s poor form which may have been a huge factor in the decision. In fact, he also didn’t play the solitary T20 against South Africa.
The presence of heavyweights such as Kevin Pietersen, Mahela Jayawardene, Ross Taylor and David Warner in the Delhi Daredevils ranks certainly eased the pressure on Sehwag. Even if there was pressure, he wouldn’t let it weigh on his mind and could continue to bat freely. His uncomplicated approach is a huge asset in any format as external factors do not affect his thinking at the crease. His brilliant form – during which he became the first batsman to score five consecutive fifties in T20 cricket – augurs well for India’s hopes at the World T20.
In contrast to Sehwag’s situation, Gambhir has single-handedly carried the burden of scoring the runs for Kolkata Knight Riders. Big names such as Jacques Kallis and Brendon McCullum have failed to maintain consistency, leaving Gambhir with a lot to do. The most exiting aspect about his batting during IPL 2012, has been his brilliant strike-rate of 146.94. He may be an attacking player, but isn’t someone you would expect to score at that extraordinarily high strike-rate.
His T20 career figure is around the 125 mark, which means that he has raised the bar by several notches during this IPL. We have often seen Gambhir as a calming influence on Sehwag’s murderous charges. Despite playing that role, Gambhir continued scoring at a good rate – which is made to look slow by Sehwag’s incredible batting. Now imagine both Sehwag and Gambhir in a destructive mode – a very frightening proposition for bowlers.
Rahane has been the biggest surprise package during IPL 2012. Although he had shown glimpses of excelling in the shortest format – an example being his 61 on T20 international debut – he wasn’t expected to shine on a very consistent basis. In fact, he admitted that he is surprised with his own success in the IPL. In a format where one expects power and unorthodoxy, Rahane comes as a refreshing change – to the delight of the purists. Throughout the tournament, he has continued to play textbook shots and hasn’t hit a stroke in anger. Most of his shots are good cricketing strokes essayed with minimal power and brilliant balance.
Since his international debut in August 2011, Rahane has impressed at the highest level, but has unquestionably got a raw deal. To accommodate certain players, the selectors sacrificed him and it was unfortunate that he had to bear the brunt of the axe. With this performance, Rahane has made a strong statement and it would be a huge mistake to ignore him for the World T20. Sehwag and Gambhir may be the preferred opening combination, but Rahane can be a very strong back-up. If required, he may also be played at number three or four.
Deccan Chargers have had a terrible IPL 2012 and Shikhar Dhawan is one of the few bright spots for them. He has been very consistent and given a platform for Deccan – something they have failed to capitalise on. Currently, he is the fourth highest run-scorer in the IPL 2012, ahead of Gambhir. However, considering Sehwag and Gambhir’s confirmed spots and Rahane’s brilliant show, Dhawan may have to wait for his chance. He should make it to the list of probables, but would eventually lose out to Rahane. In a squad of 15, one can carry a maximum of three specialist openers to maintain the balance and that would mean that Dhawan may not make the cut.
At the same time it would be a little premature to count Dhawan out of the race as there are a few games left in the league stages. Currently, Dhawan is only 13 runs behind Rahane and if he can manage to overtake his tally at the conclusion of the tournament, the selectors may have a few tough decisions to make.
Through all that, there is a certain Robin Uthappa who opened the batting for India in their latest T20 game. He has scored runs for Pune Warriors India, but his strike-rate has been below par for a player of his calibre. Karthik Parimal, my fellow writer at CricketCountry, pointed out that it would be an uphill task for Uthappa to make it to the India squad for the World T20. That task has become even tougher keeping Dhawan’s success in perspective.
(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a club-level cricketer with an analytic mind and a sharp eye. It was this sharpness which spotted a wrong replay in IPL4 resulting in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. Some of his analytical pieces have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. Nishad can also be followed on Twitter)