The return of Sachin Tendulkar to any team is a cause for celebration. No matter how strong your team may be, you can only look in awe at the numbers: 16,361 runs, 42 centuries, an average of 44.33 and a highest score of 186 not out. Why then will Mahendra Singh Dhoni have a bit of thinking to do when he puts together the batting line-up for the fourth ODI in Bangalore?
Simply put, Dhoni has the unenviable task of breaking up an opening partnership that has delivered the goods for him almost every time he has asked it of them. Whether it is in Test or ODIs, the pairing of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag have given India the kind of starts that only two men who share an understanding of their own games, each other's style of play and a canny reading of the opposition can.
Although Gambhir and Sehwag are both attacking batsmen, it is not that they have simply thrown their bats at everything, trying to make the early field restrictions count. When Sehwag has been pushed onto the back foot by short bowling, Gambhir has skipped down the pitch and forced fast bowlers to change their length. When Gambhir has flashed outside the off and missed, Sehwag has encouraged him to drop the ball down and scamper the quick single.
Now, with Tendulkar back, there's every indication that this pairing will have to be split up. The last two times Tendulkar batted for India in blue clothes he made 91 and 102* in the finals of the triseries in Australia where India won that tournament for the first time. Tendulkar did so while opening, with Gambhir slipping down to No. 3. Fortunately, Gambhir adapted well, scoring 440 runs in the tournament at an average of 55.
The only reason to even bring up the issue of where Tendulkar will bat — the opening position is his whenever he wants it — is because of how little part Tendulkar has played in limited overs cricket over the last few months. No doubt the demands of playing cricket day-in day-out for nearly two decades are catching up with the little master and he is finding it increasingly difficult to recover from the niggles that any sportsman picks up. With this being the case he is forced to opt for rest in ODIs while preserving his best for Test matches.
With one eye on the 2011 World Cup, which Tendulkar may or may not be a part of, the team's think tank will be tempted to preserve the Sehwag-Gambhir opening partnerhip. As Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly showed, in what is the most successful opening stand in ODIs by some margin, a team can work wonders when there's a strong partnership at the top. The good news for India is that Sehwag and Gambhir are able successors, even if they are occasionally separated.