Is it time to look beyond Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir as openers?

Since last July, the Sehwag-Gambhir partnership has registered 559 runs for the first wicket, at an average of 31.05 with a highest of 89. They have passed 50 only five times in 18 outings, four of them coming against West Indies and one against New Zealand. © Getty Images

India did triumph against New Zealand, but the glaring failures of the Virender Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir combination at the top of the order continue to because for major concern. Arunabha Sengupta looks at the abysmal figures of the duo ever since the England tour and wonders if it is not time for change.

 

Yes, India did manage to take the series 2-0. On the deciding day, Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir did start things off with a blinding flash, putting on a quick-fire 77 runs in just 11.5 overs.

 

Even given the rather weak Kiwi concoction, it is easy to get intoxicated by the spirit of victory. And there is more than a chance to ignore or indulge a major problem that has for a substantial time been rearing its ugly head right at the top of the batting card.

 

A look at the rather horrendous figures should be enough to realise the extent to which the evident chinks have grown into a major chasm.
The glory days

 

On paper, Sehwag and Gambhir still combine to form the most successful opening pair ever produced by India.

 

Two quality batsmen at the top of the order, each boasting records at par with the very best in business, has been a rarity for Indian cricket – other than the few times Rahul Dravid had been persuaded to go in and construct a makeshift wall at the start of the innings.

 

If we look at the records, the Delhi duo have put on 4,110 runs together – more than a thousand runs ahead of the celebrated Sunil Gavaskar-Chetan Chauhan pair – and have done so at a creditable average of 52.69.

 

 

India’s dream run in Test cricket during 2008-2011 culminating in the world No 1 ranking had much to do with the blistering starts provided by the twosome. Sehwag blazing away in famed blitzkriegs at the start of the innings put the opposition on the back-foot even after posting big first innings totals. And in Gambhir, India had discovered the ideal man to mix caution with aggression, and provide excellent foil to the belligerence at the other end, in the process forming the first serious left-hand right-hand combination for India.

 

Indeed, during the said three and a half year period before the unfortunate England tour, the pair added 2,549 runs in 44 innings at a phenomenal average of 60.69. Only Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss scored more, but that was after playing a lot more innings and making runs at a much lower 46.17.

 

It can be quite confidently inferred a large portion of the fortunes of Indian Test cricket during this successful period was built on the foundation stone regularly laid by the duo.
Decline and fall of the first wicket

 

However, the recent figures cause a great deal of concern.

 

Starting from the England tour, both the stalwarts have had diminishing returns. And, as can be expected, their collaborations have plummeted from the dizzy heights and have become largely pedestrian.

 

In 12 Tests since July 2011, Gambhir has scored 536 runs at an abysmal average of 24.36. He has managed just three fifties – two of them against a rather unimpressive bunch of West Indians.

 

Sehwag has done little better, his inability to adapt to the situation and curtail his death or glory game has never quite seemed this questionable. In 11 Tests during this period, he has scored 612 runs at 30.60, on an average spending just 35 balls at the wicket. For an opening batsman, the second statistic is shocking, to put it very mildly.

 

Trouble at the top

 

Sehwag

 

Gambhir

 

Since July 2011

 

Runs

 

Average

 

Runs

 

Average

 

Overall 612 30.60 536 24.36
Overseas 239 19.91 283 20.21

 

The partnership has hit the reef as well, crashing down from the heady waves created during the glorious preceding period. From last July, they have registered 559 runs for the first wicket, at an average of 31.05 with a highest of 89. They have passed 50 only five times in 18 outings, four of them coming against West Indies and one against New Zealand.
On an average the opening partnership since July 2011 has lasted 6.4 overs per innings.
The figures are more dreadful away from home, with 136 runs to show for their 10 collaborations – the highest being 26.

 

It seems more than strange that in the midst of this very period of plight, both these batsmen have been proclaimed by Sourav Ganguly as ready for Indian captaincy.

 

Plummeting partnerships

 

Sehwag-Gambhir tandem

 

Runs

 

Average

 

100

 

50

 

Overall 4110 52.69 10 24
2008 – May 2011 2549 60.69 8 13
July 2011 – Present 559 31.06 0 5
Last 2 overseas tours 136 13.60 0 0

 

Given that some of the well-known combinations of the past – Vinoo MankadPankaj Roy and Vijay MerchantMushtaq Ali for example – did not even enjoy the luxury of starting the innings together on 18 occasions, this prolonged slump is cause for considerable alarm.

 

Right now Sachin Tendulkar’s struggle is huge enough flogging horse to shield such major creases and wrinkles in the batting order from scrutiny. But, the figures reflect more than sufficient reasons to give the team management sleepless nights with the new ball swinging and seaming through recurrent nightmares.

 

There seems to be a lot of wisdom in blooding young Ajinkya Rahane as an opener and bringing Virender Sehwag down the order at No 5 or No 6, to allow some breathing space for the fraying hand-eye coordination to catch up with the game.

 

(Arunabha Senguptais a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)