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Problems at the top

Dinesh Karthik being picked as an opener may serve as a stopgap arrangement in Bangladesh, writes Kadambari Murali.

india Updated: Apr 23, 2007 12:28 IST

Dinesh Karthik’s being picked as an opener may serve as a stopgap arrangement in Bangladesh, but what happens in England and thereafter?

Indian cricket is often ruled by the logic of convenience. If something is convenient at that particular time, then it is done. The future is expected to look out for itself. And so, yet again, a team leaves Indian shores (if only to next-door Bangladesh), with yet another new look opening combine.

Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik (who opened with Jaffer in a makeshift arrangement in the Cape Town Test in January) make up the 25th combination at the top for India in 10 years (if you count people like Ganguly, Tendulkar, Badani, Dighe and now, Karthik, who have opened in an innings each). When you compare it to Australia's 11 in the same period (along the same criteria), you get another major reason for our lack of consistency in Test cricket.

Now why has Karthik, who is not a regular opener for his home state, Tamil Nadu, and has a very average first-class average of 29.98 (1859 runs in 44 games), suddenly been dubbed a specialist opener for Bangladesh?

Simple. Karthik, for reasons that are somewhat hazy (or perhaps have their origins in Greg Chappell's calling him a future India captain) is obviously the new blue-eyed boy of Indian cricket, even if he did not make the playing XI in the World Cup.

More importantly though, it is extremely convenient to dub Karthik an opener and send him there so India can play the rest of their star-cast in the middle. So we're going to see Karthik and Jaffer open, probably followed by Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, VVS Laxman, Sourav Ganguly and Yuvraj Singh before the bowlers.

Dhoni will likely sit out, unless Dravid takes a really tough call (one that will be criticised whatever it is) and keeps out one of his star middleorder bats. But given that Karthik has been called an opener, and is a regular wicket-keeper, logically, Dhoni would be benched.

Now, if all that is true, why is MS Dhoni on the trip? You surely don't need two wicket-keepers for Bangladesh, when someone can be sent over within hours if there is an injury or anything else unforeseen?

The selectors/ team management have done three things here by picking Karthik as an opener. They haveprobably made Dhoni, who is a rare, precious talent, a very insecure man, something that was unnecessary.

They have probably demoralised Gautam Gambhir (told that the team management preferred Karthik to him in Cape Town), Aakash Chopra (called “unlucky” because of the “needs of the team composition”), Robin Uthappa (who's done well World Cup apart) and a host of young openers who are probably wondering if there's a place for a specialist of their kind in Indian cricket.

They have possibly confused Virender Sehwag, who was probably expecting to be dropped altogether and now might be wondering why he's been picked in the one-dayers (where he's always been erratic) and not the Tests (where he's not had a happy time of late but still averages 51-plus).

And they have also left the door open for some uncomfortable questions that will not surface in Bangladesh, which should be an easy tour in India regardless of who plays. But next up is England, with its seaming wickets and a Test fast bowling combine that is far better than its oneday counterpart and can be a potent force on home ground. Will a makeshift opener be taken there? If not, then why would you not give your other regular opener (whoever that might be) some confidence by playing him on what should be placid, slow tracks in Bangladesh?

Or, if Karthik does okay on those flat wickets, is that a signal for his becoming India's long-term opener in other conditions too? Will he be pitchforked into opening in extremely tough conditions in England? Would that be fair to him and more importantly, would that be fair to India? Perhaps he is good enough, who knows, he looks confident when he bats and might well be? But then, what happens to aspiring openers in India if he is regularised?

Or what if Sehwag does well in the one-day games? Will that mean he earns his Test spot back for England? Or are the powers-that-be simply hoping that one of the current Big 5 of the Tests fails so spectacularly, that he can be thrown out of the middle kingdom?

If that is so, then that is why India will never be an Australia, where a Michael Clarke, or a Damien Martyn or any number of middle-order bats competed and waited their place while the Langer-Hayden combine was allowed to cement one of history's cricketing most enduring marriages.