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India's new opening pair holds tremendous promise

The budding success of the new opening combination of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma is seen as one of the biggest positives of Duncan Fletcher's period. Sanjeev K Samyal reports.

cricket Updated: Nov 01, 2013 09:17 IST
Sanjeev K Samyal

Notwithstanding the great batting tradition, playing the new-moving ball has not been one of the great strengths of the Indian batsmen. Those silken strokes have been on display and mammoth totals built, only when provided with some cushion.

Sunil Gavaskar-Chetan Chauhan; Gavaskar-Kris Srikkanth; Gavaskar-NS Sidhu; Virender Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir, all emphasised the role of a settled opening pair. When these opening partnerships thrived, the Indian batting units thrived.

An example of the dependence on a good start was never felt more than during India's most horrific performances in recent times: the whitewashes in England and Australia in 2011-12.

The openers never came to the party here, and the England and Australian pacers cut through through the famed middle-orders as easy as knife through butter.'s been the case in all formats. Even more so in the one-dayers where Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Sehwag and Gambhir have set high standards at the top of the order.

India's record during their time speaks for itself. Of the last three World Cups, India won in 2011 and were runners-up in 2003, with these batsmen laying the foundation for India's dominant show.

For a variety of reasons, in the last season India didn't have the services of these stalwarts: Tendulkar retired, while the Delhi duo are grappling a form slump.

Hence, the importance of the emergence of Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma. The budding success of the new opening combination is seen as one of the biggest positives of Duncan Fletcher's period.

Dhawan was always a specialist opener, but the way Sharma has adjusted to the role from a middle-order batsman has delighted Indian fans. The two have struck a fine understanding and their style of play acts as a perfect foil to eact other.

Dhawan plays the aggressor, who likes to score at a fast clip, while Rohit looks to settle in and anchor the innings.

And, like Ganguly-Tendulkar and Gambhir-Sehwag, Dhawan and Sharma provide the team with the left-right combination which forces the bowlers to continuously adjust their line and length.

Having brought together as experiment in the Champions Trophy, the two have shown signs of forging a long-term partnership. Their good work has continued in the one-day series against Australia.

As Mitchell Johnson & Co have tried to unsettle the Indians with pace and bounce with the new ball, the two have helped to soak in the early bombardment and prevented the middle-order from getting exposed.

It has allowed the likes of Virat Kohli to go out and express himself from the first ball.

They have helped India bounce back twice to level the series at 2-2 and both have been record chases. At Jaipur the two put together 176 and on Wednesday at Nagpur, they had a partnership of 178 as India twice chased targets of 350 plus within two weeks.

After the win in the sixth ODI, Mahendra Singh Dhoni made a special mention of the contribution of his openers.

"It always helps because our team, the Indian team is so used to good opening batsmen. When Gautam and Viru were doing really well for us, we did really well as a team too during that stretch. If you have two openers who spend a bit of time in the middle, it sends a sense of calm to the dressing room. Even today (Wednesday), the way Rohit and Shikhar started, you never felt that they are looking to chase down 350. That's something that's really good. It gives a calm and composed dressing room, and it helps you get used to the pressure."

In the series-decider at Bangalore on Saturday, the most keenly awaited battle will be between the Indian openers and the Australian new-ball bowlers. Whoever comes out on top, will give his team a huge advantage.