Time to trust the old firm of Virender Sehwag (L) and Gautam Gambhir at the top of the order © AFP

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli nullified the effects of Ravi Rampaul’s heroics and ensured India’s safe passage to victory. The two youngsters came together after West Indies had made inroads into the Indian batting line-up. For the second consecutive game, the Indian top order has failed to provide a good start and has looked brittle upfront. The middle-order rescued India from precarious positions in both the games. But it’s imperative that the top order needs to pick up. A few changes should be made to have solidity upfront so that the middle order doesn’t bear the brunt of pressure repeatedly.

Parthiv Patel’s presence at the top hasn’t produced positive results as he hasn’t been able to perform that role efficiently. Parthiv isn’t a natural power hitter and there are occasions when he has been dismissed attempting something extraordinary. In England, he did a good job facing the new ball and handled the swing and bounce very well. However, since the first ODI against England at home in October, Parthiv hasn’t done anything of note and has struggled to convert his starts.

I had written about Parthiv’s poor run with the bat in an earlier article and his latest outing has dented those numbers further. It isn’t just the fact that he is getting out early, but the manner in which he is getting out. In the first ODI at Cuttack, he cut a widish delivery down the throat of the fielder. A tentative poke outside the off stump saw his fall at Visakhapatnam. In the home series against England, he had just one good score but fell early on all the other occasions.

If one looks at the opening partnerships Parthiv has been involved in since the first ODI against England at Hyderabad, it becomes evident that he has been the first wicket to fall on all the occasions as seen below:

1st ODI 2nd ODI

  3rd ODI

  4th ODI

 1st ODI

2nd ODIVersusEngEngEngEngWIWIVenueHyderabadDelhiMohaliMumbaiCuttackVizagPartnership17147918373Parthiv912388122

Apart from the Mohali ODI against England, India have lost an early wicket in all the other games in which Parthiv has opened. Another interesting point is that he didn’t play in the fifth ODI vs England and Gambhir replaced him at the top. The move turned out to be a good one as Gambhir and Ajinkya Rahane struck a partnership of 80. Parthiv returned in the opening role in the ongoing series against the West Indies and has continued to display the tendency of getting out early.

The Indian team management have to do some serious thinking regarding their opening combination. Sehwag’s return has boosted the strength of the batting, but he needs a good hand at the other end. Parthiv being the only wicket-keeper in the squad till the third ODI will be a part of the eleven and it wouldn’t be a bad move to drop him down the order and promote Gambhir.

The Delhi duo, Gambhir and Sehwag are a successful opening pair and have a good understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses. In the company of Gambhir, one can see Sehwag feeling a lot more comfortable and that has worked well for India in the past on numerous occasions. Gambhir had a decent series against England but hasn’t had a big score for some time.

Before he boards the flight to Australia, he needs that one substantial score to get his confidence back. It isn’t the case that he is out of form; in fact he looks good during his relatively short stays in the middle. However, a big score has eluded him for quite some time. Opening the innings is Gambhir’s forte and going in upfront may help him get into his groove before the journey Down Under.

In the scenario of Gambhir replacing Parthiv at the top, every batsman in the order would move a spot upwards. Thus, Kohli would come in at three, a position that should suit him well. Rohit Sharma would walk in at four and Suresh Raina at five. Ravindra Jadeja the all-rounder can move up to number six as his performances with the bat since his comeback have been encouraging. He has been able to adjust his game according to the situation very well and a promotion may work in his favor. The fighting knock at Cuttack would have given him immense confidence as it came at a crucial juncture and helped bring India out of a hole to relative safety.

Parthiv would then have to walk in at number seven where he can throw his bat around as he may not get too many overs too play. He would play his next game in front of his home crowd at Ahmedabad and would be desperate for a good performance.

The current India squad is only for the first three games and the selectors may make changes after the Ahmedabad ODI. Wriddhiman Saha, the Bengal wicket-keeper is in the Test squad for the tour of Australia and if Parthiv doesn’t perform in his hometown, the selectors may mull giving Saha a run in the side for the last two games.

The Indian players will leave for Australia in two batches. Saha is expected to be in the first batch which is scheduled to leave on December 8 (clashes with the ongoing ODI series). However, his flight can be delayed if a change is desperately needed.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya, a 21-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.”)