Zimbabwe in India, Feb-Mar 2002
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India won by 101 runs
India 333/6 (50 ov)
Zimbabwe 232 (42.1/48 ov)

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The writer in you

Bangar for opener!
S Khem Raj - 26 February 2002

In the recent Nagpur Test, I was forced to think about a comment from Robin Jackman regarding the Indian selection policy. Jackman was surprised that Deep Dasgupta, only recently a regular opener for his state side, opened the innings, while Sanjay Bangar, a regular opener for Railways, batted well down the order. The experiment worked because it was tried out on friendly home batting pitches; the same need not stand true on more lively pitches, because opening the batting is a difficult job. There is, thus, always a need for quality openers in a winning team.

After having outclassed Zimbabwe in the first Test at Nagpur, the Indian selectors have retained the same squad for the second Test. This would sound a reasonable decision, looking at the results in the series so far. Bangar lived up to his selection ahead of Virender Sehwag by contributing a century in only his second Test. Harbhajan Singh bowled remarkably but went wicket-less in the first innings.

But I would like to comment more on retaining Dasgupta as wicket- keeper for second Test after his very ordinary performance at Nagpur. India has a well-balanced batting line-up, with Bangar, a recent double centurion opener for Railways, batting at number 7.

Thus I am really amazed at the selection committee's decision to persist with Dasgupta at the very top of the order. He may have scored a century in the recent series against England, but he has not lived up to the standards of the job that he was selected for - to catch the ball behind the wickets.

Test cricket requires much more concentration than limited-over games, and a single miss may end up vitally affecting the result of a crucial game. Dropping Stuart Carlisle could even have posed a bigger threat to the Indian bowling if the Zimbabwe captain had been better supported by his batsmen. Here we only need a better wicket-keeper, and if he is a good batsman, that is just an added advantage.

Having seen Ajay Ratra keep wicket in the one-dayers against England and a couple of domestic games, I think he looks the best man to fill this position in the Indian Test side as well. He is agile and alert behind the stumps, especially standing up to them - an important aspect when there are quality spinners like Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble in the side. He is also a good stroke-player, quite often adding useful runs; I watched him score vital runs in the series against the English junior side when he captained the Indian juniors.

With Bangar filling the opening spot, the Indian side can improve their balance by picking the best wicket-keeper available at present. Missed catches and fumbled stumping chances can be very expensive. The Australians kept Ian Healy in the job in Tests for long just because he was a better wicket-keeper; at the same time, Adam Gilchrist was keeping wicket in the one-dayers, since he was a better batsman.

The stylish and wristy VVS Laxman has had a disappointing season too. I have no doubts regarding his talent or class, but there have been no big scores from him in any series - domestic or abroad - that he has played after the Australian tour of India. He is a top-order batsman, and so big scores are expected of him. Sehwag, who proved himself a reliable batsman lower down the order when he scored a hundred on South Africa's bowler friendly pitches, would not be a surprise pick to fill this spot in the upcoming Delhi Test. His occasional off-spin can also increase the options in the bowling department for the Indian captain.

At times, the Indian team includes players just on the strength of a single performance that is already fading in memory. Hrishikesh Kanitkar played for India much after he hit the winning four in the Asia Cup final at Dhaka. His continued below-average performances, however, started to encroach on the memory of the Dhaka one-dayer, and he was finally dropped. Laxman is in danger of becoming a similar case.

The Indian team may continue to perform well on home pitches, but no number of wins over Zimbabwe at Nagpur will make up for our failures on foreign soil. It would thus be very helpful if India prepared more pace-friendly pitches like Mohali, which will in turn encourage youngsters to aim to be pacers. It is an irony that next-door neighbor Pakistan has some of the world's finest and fastest bowlers in Shoaib Akhtar, Waqar Younis, Wasim Akram and Mohammad Sami, but on the other side of Indus, we have few prolific pacers. Given more favourable conditions, however, the youngsters will take up fast bowling as a career, providing a good nurturing ground for future talent.

Summing it up, then, the current Indian team is a talented lot, and with a little more adjustment that will further balance the side, India will be a fine prospect for the upcoming World Cup and the other tours in the cricketing calendar.

The views expressed above are solely those of the guest contributor and are carried as written, with only minor editing for grammar, to preserve the original voice. These contributed columns are solely personal opinion pieces and reflect only the feelings of the guest contributor. Their being published on does not amount to an endorsement by CricInfo's editorial staff of the opinions expressed.
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