Picking Dhawan, ahead of Jaffer, in place of Gambhir is a thoughtful move

What India needs is a long term solution to an existing problem, and if a younger player in the form of Shikhar Dhawan (left) is delivering the same goods, opening the innings for his domestic side on a consistent basis, then the selectors are right in opting to pick him ahead of Wasim Jaffer © AFP

By Karthik Parimal

A tally of 1248 runs at an average of 30.43 in the last three years can seldom be used to justify a place in any first-rate Test side, and the numbers are all the more worrisome considering they belong to an opener. Gautam Gambhir featured in most of India’s Tests since the tour of South Africa in 2010, despite not having scored a century.

Series after series, runs from his willow flew infrequently, but he presented statistics to the media to prove that his contributions hadn’t been reduced to a trickle. During the recent home series against England, he failed to cross the magical three-figure mark yet again, albeit having toiled his way to two half-centuries.

He scored 37 in his last innings at Nagpur, and that must have acted as a catalyst in his axing. Now, he’s finally out of favour with the selectors, and one can’t help but agree that it’s a step in the right direction for Indian cricket. It is time Gambhir went back to the drawing board and rectified his shortcomings, which would do him and the team much good.

Shikhar Dhawan rightly included before Wasim Jaffer

While Gambhir’s last three years in Test cricket were laborious, Wasim Jaffer enjoyed a good run of form from 2005 to his last Test in 2008 at Kanpur. He played 24 Tests in the aforesaid period, scoring 1683 runs at an average of 38.25, including five centuries and eight fifties. Yet, he was discarded and never donned the national colours thereafter. He went back to the domestic circuit and plundered runs at will there, but seldom came to the forefront when an Indian squad was picked.

Even during the recently concluded Ranji Trophy, Jaffer always featured in the list of leading run-getters with 835 runs under his belt, as an opener, at an outstanding average of 75.90. Therefore, talks of him replacing Gambhir in the Indian unit for the upcoming series against Australia were apt and justified.

However, age has always played a pivotal role in Indian cricket and, at 35, one wonders how long a rope Jaffer would have been given had he been picked. He could have been a symbol of solidity at the top of the order, but considering the crucial juncture India’s Test department currently finds itself in, it’s difficult to say if the move to include him would have paid rich dividends in the near future. What India needs is a long term solution to an existing problem, and if a younger player in the form of Shikhar Dhawan is delivering the same goods opening the innings for his domestic side on a consistent basis, then the selectors are right in opting to pick him ahead of Jaffer.

Dhawan has dominated the domestic scene since the last couple of years. He was touted to replace one of his Delhi openers in the Indian team for the series against England too, but majority of the selectors considered providing the duo of Gambhir and Virender Sehwag one last platform to make amends on the big stage. Now that they’ve failed, it makes sense to rope in 27-year-old Dhawan.

Like I mentioned in one of my previous articles a few months ago, at one point, Dhawan’s scores in nine consecutive innings in all forms of the game read as follows: 85, 100*, 80, 99*, 152, 61, 101, 50 and 121. He was the highest run-scorer in last year’s Duleep Trophy, with 309 runs in four innings at 77.25. His performance in the recently-concluded Ranji Trophy too was noteworthy, as he averaged a healthy 51.22 from 11 innings. Although he wasn’t as proficient as Jaffer, the fact remains that he deserves a longer run at the top keeping in mind the current situation Indian cricket finds itself in.

Will Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay open?

Considering one left-hander will replace the other in the first two Tests against Australia, it will be interesting to see if Ajinkya Rahane, who has been waiting on the fringes for quite some time since the last few series, finally gets a game. Murali Vijay has been picked as the other possible opener, and going by his recent scores (116 and 35) against Mumbai in the Irani Trophy, he could, by all means, pip Rahane to the post. Also, it remains to be seen if Virender Sehwag’s move to the middle-order indeed materialises, or whether it’d be someone else’s conundrum to try and fit into the puzzle.

Sehwag’s figures have been slightly better than that of Gambhir’s since the forgettable tour of England in 2011, but well below the standards he usually sets. It’s safe to say that his past reputation has helped him cling on to the spot, since his contributions have been well below par since the last couple of years. The series against Australia could well be his final straw, and rightly so.

(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)