The success of Virender Sehwag at the top of the order in one-day
internationals has simultaneously bequeathed riches and worries
to the Indian think-tank. A good batsman is always useful, but
who then should open the Indian batting in the shortened version
of the game?
Sourav Ganguly, after the poor middle-order performance against
England in the recently concluded series, stated that India's
problem was not the start, but the finish. The openers - Sachin
Tendulkar and Sehwag in that case - along with Ganguly at number
three invariably fired, but the remaining batsmen in the middle
order, relatively inexperienced, could not handle the pressure
imposed by the situation.
The need, then, is for a cool head and a stable temperament in
the middle, a player who can guide the youngsters and win games
off his own bat at the same time. Sehwag is raw and exciting, and
his presence at the top should not be tampered with. Ganguly is a
possibility, but he is prone to rushes of impetuosity; besides,
he would be more useful in forming a left-right opening
combination with Sehwag.
The job, then, falls to Tendukar, and there is really no better.
Youngsters have raved about how inspiring it is to bat with him,
and his presence at the crease is always a stablising influence
on the Indian team. Batting first, Tendulkar's shot-making
ability in the final 10-20 overs will come in use, and during the
chase, his cool head will more often than not guide his team to
victory. But if this is to be done, Tendulkar must drop down the
order now so that an established batting line-up can be
fabricated before the World Cup next year.
Ever since Mark Greatbatch and, later, Sanath Jayasuriya
pioneered the slam-bang technique in the first 15 overs, the
method has gained acceptance and been praised for its practical
approach. It would make sense, then, to put your two best stroke-
makers at the very top of the order. For India, the second
opener's place may then be contested, but the premier shot-player
in the team is in no doubt - Sachin Tendulkar.
Even leaving aside the fact that Tendulkar has achieved the one-
day success he enjoys today in the opening position, his ability
to punish the bowling early and demoralise the opposition is
invaluable. He is the most complete player in the Indian side and
the best innovator as well, a combination of talents that make
him the ideal person to take advantage of field restrictions.
Furthermore, Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly have already become the
most successful opening pair in one-day history and, as the
saying goes, if that combination ain't broke, don't fix it. Their
performances at the top of the order have regularly won games for
India, often through mammoth partnerships at very fast scoring
Sehwag, meanwhile, would be better off in the middle order for
now. He is still relatively inexperienced, and a bad trot or some
miserly bowling may frustrate him enough to cause him to throw
his wicket away. At the same time, according him a permanent
place in the middle order is a good way to accustom him to the
various pressures that one-day cricket throws up.