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New kids are off the blocks

When Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma walked out to open for India against South Africa on Tuesday, they were the 13th opening-combination to be tried since the start of 2011. For a change, it was lucky number 13! Rohit Bhaskar reports.

cricket Updated: Jun 09, 2013 09:42 IST
Rohit Bhaskar

When Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma walked out to open for India against South Africa on Tuesday, they were the 13th opening-combination to be tried since the start of 2011. For a change, it was lucky number 13!

In the past two-and-a-half years the only pair to average over forty, or put on a century stand, was the tried and tested combinations of Sachin Tendulkar-Virender Sehwag (averaging 41.83 in 12 matches with one century stand) and Gautam Gambhir-Virender Sehwag (averaging 41.62 in 8 matches with one century stand). Tendulkar, of course, has now retired from ODIs. Sehwag and Gambhir are no longer obvious choices.

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The 127-run stand between the newest opening pair and the chemistry they shared could go some way to solving India's recent problem at the top.

It was on a fateful Holi day at Eden Park in New Zealand in 1994 that Navjot Singh Sidhu strained his neck, and paved the way for Sachin Tendulkar's start as an ODI opener. The then 20-year-old adjusted to life at the top with a belligerent 44-ball 82. In the years that followed India's ODI openers have mostly been converted ones who would continue to bat in the middle-order in Tests.

Ganguly followed Tendulkar's move to the top of the order a few years later, and the duo still hold the record for the best-ever opening combination. They opened on 136 occasions, putting together 6,609 runs at 49.32 with 21 century stands. Virender Sehwag, who opened with both Tendulkar and Ganguly, was another who moved up from the middle-order and exploited the Powerplay.

The rules have changed vastly since. This edition marks the first time India play under the new ODI rules on foreign shores. With two new balls in use from both ends and in English conditions, runs aren't the first priority. Wickets are, conserving them that is.

Rohit, like Tendulkar, Ganguly and Sehwag, isn't a natural opener. In the warm-ups he played lower down the order but MS Dhoni had hinted he could be sent up. Dhoni also insisted that there was a change in team strategy, with think-tank happy with a score of 40 for no loss after 10 overs even with just two fielders outside the 30-yard circle.

Dhawan and Sharma left balls outside off-stump, played late, showed good understanding by stealing singles and even took a few bouncers in their stride. The scoreboard read 15/0 after the first five overs. Then as they found the middle of the bat, they broke free.

It may just be early days yet, but they're off to a rousing start. Now, they have to keep pace.