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The great Indian cricketing gamble

As things stand, Anil Kumble is going into the world's toughest series with serious problems, writes Kadambari Murali.

cricket Updated: Dec 14, 2007 01:31 IST
Kadambari Murali
Kadambari Murali
Hindustan Times

What are the chances that we're going to see another brand new opening combination walk out on Boxing Day in Melbourne in the first Test of the toughest cricket tour in the world? Logically, very high — if India bat first of course, otherwise, we'd have to wait a couple of days.

It's going to be very surprising if Rahul Dravid is not Wasim Jaffer's new opening partner in that first Test.

Dravid, India's most successful Test batsman in modern day cricket, and the man largely responsible for Sourav Ganguly's enviable Test captaincy record, would definitely not be happy about moving up a spot.

But, he is not the skipper anymore (of his own accord of course) and the team man that he is, Dravid would almost certainly open if he is asked to do so, in order to accommodate Yuvraj Singh in the middle. In which case, India's batting card would probably read Jaffer, Dravid, Laxman, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Yuvraj, Dhoni etc.

What gamble was this?

So here's some more reasoning then: If that does happen (which is likely) the great Indian cricketing gamble (the act of picking a badly out of form Virender Sehwag), is not really a gamble at all. It is just a mystifying selection.

To play Sehwag ahead of Yuvraj, in sublime touch, would be totally irrational, even if you make allowance for the trend of strange decisions in Indian cricket. So why did we have to be put through this sham of a gamble on Wednesday, when Sehwag was announced in the squad after not being in the probables? Or, else, why did we have 24 probables announced at all?

The only way Sehwag would play (plausibly, again) is if Jaffer and Dravid have miserable failures in the first two Tests and you pick Sehwag instead of, say, Jaffer. It would be interpreted as madness to even think of dropping Dravid for Tests.

But then again, if Gautam Gambhir was your first choice opener (as has been stated by the selectors and team management), then why didn't they just take Gambhir along as a back-up, if the thinking is to open with Dravid? You also have Dinesh Karthik in the squad anyway.

Why not Gambhir?

Gambhir's sore shoulder is being given an outer limit of three weeks rest as a precautionary measure. Twenty-one days from now is just ahead of the second Test at Sydney. Just as an aside, when did he pick up that injury? And if it was before the Test, because he didn't seem to get injured during the Bangalore game, why did he play it/why was he made to play it?

The Delhi southpaw should definitely be in the one-day squad. So he might as well have spent time with the team, become acclimatised to the conditions and been there as a back-up, if need be. That was the thinking behind taking Jaffer to the ODIs in South Africa last year (the one-day series there preceded the Tests).

That X factor

Coming back to Sehwag, there is no doubting that his impact on the Australian bowlers from last time around weighed in his favour. But that was four years ago. In the time since, the world has changed and so have Sehwag's own fortunes.

An average of 13 or so in five Ranji games so far this season and an inability to negotiate some ordinary domestic attacks (or an unwillingness to show the patience to wait it out) is not a good sign for him or for the Indian team.

Yes, with Sehwag, the argument always is, "You never know". True, at his best, he can be devastating but he is not at his best and is instead, possibly at his worst in recent memory. That above argument was fine when the man with possibly the best hand-eye coordination in the business was secure in his mind about his place in the scheme of things.

At this point, it's difficult to imagine that if he walks out against Australia, he will not feel the pressure of the immediate situation or not know that a bad outing could well spell the end of what has been an astonishing international career.

Problems galore

As things stand, Anil Kumble is going into the world's toughest series with some serious problems. Agreed, when Ganguly led the team in 2003-04, no one gave them too much of a chance, but this situation is even worse. Then, there was clarity of purpose about the team, no real confusion about anything.

The only doubt was over whether Aakash Chopra or Sadagoppan Ramesh would open with Sehwag in Brisbane. Incidentally, India's success on that tour was attributed a lot to the tremendous success of that Sehwag-Chopra opening combine. Incredibly, they did far better than the famed Langer-Hayden combination did for the Aussies.

Now, people are four years older, bodies, even those in sublime touch on Indian soil, are four years older. You are probably going to deeply upset your best Test batsman in Dravid if you ask him to open, even if he will do it. Your two best pacemen's fitness and ability to last a high intensity tour will be tested. Of those that are fit, two are greenhorns (Ishant Sharma and Pankaj Singh) and one, Irfan Pathan, is on the comeback trail and will be under pressure to perform if he does play.

How effective the spinners will be except in Sydney (Kumble is our best hope but he will be handling the additional burden of the captaincy) is another matter for debate. All in all, it's tough to see this as being an Indian Summer Down Under. But then, there's always hope.