Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Opening for India

Jaime Alter's piece on India's sorry trend of making the most unlikely of batsmen open, kinda set me off. A couple of weeks ago, when the Indian team to Pakistan was to be announced, I wondered whether the possible exclusion of Gambhir from the squad was going to be another notch in the "drop them like a hot brick" attitude that seems to have plagued the Indian selectors. And using Cricinfo's Statsguru as a reference, I came up with this analysis.

I considered the career averages of the seven regular openers (including Sehwag) and the number of tests they played before being dropped for good (Wasim Jaffer has not technically made a comeback). The inference I hoped to make was that any struggling batsman was bound to succeed given a long run, something that openers in India haven't been having for a long time now. I certainly could make that reference, as you can see, with Sehwag having the best record. And then Multan '04 came to mind and then I realised that Sehwag's 55 plus average is also the result of a few huge scores, something that he has not had in sometime now (well I certainly hope that this 96 at Lahore is built up to something more substantial, since India needs it). Which is when I decided to take Sehwag out of the equation and look at the career progression of the rest of the six regular openers that India has had in the recent past. And what I came up with, was this.

So we see that every single opener had been the middle of a lean run when they were dropped like hot coal, as the drop in their averages shows. So is their dropping justified? Well, I still don't think so. And that is because I believe in the inference that I made when I started this analysis.

And if my inference was true, then what else would justify this trend? I suspect that that dreaded word - technique, might be used. Ramesh for one was said to possess a less than perfect technique. And recently Gambhir has been talked about in similar breath. But then Sehwag is the best proof to debunk the technique theories. So is it hand to eye co-ordination that's the clinching factor? That Sehwag has and IMHO Ramesh had more than a fair bit of that as well. So, is it that other quality that has been thrown about, i.e., attitude? Chopra seems to be a level headed guy (his writing demonstrates that) , so that may not be the only reason.

So, I am unable to pinpoint a reason for this trend. But wait, let us see. I can probably see one more reason. We have a long history of accommodating people just because we have to. Most of our cricketers do not have proper exit strategies chalked out. So we end up accommodating them on the team way past their expiry date, sometimes to enable them reach personal milestones and in others, just because we think we should let them take that decision when they feel like. And in some other cases, the reasons are more political.

Speaking of politics, I think Ganguly missed an important play in what seems to be his endgame, a play that could have earned him a few brownie points from everyone concerned. I feel that Ganguly could have backed himself on this pitch and put his name forward for the opening slot. Or maybe he did and Dravid did the unthinkable, i.e., refuse Ganguly's request. But regardless of what happened. I hope we DON'T lean about what transpired, at least not until the kingpins of the Indian top order call it a day. For, regardless of our posturing, intrigue and deceit are never an Indian's strong point. The truth (or something like that) always leaks out.

(Cross-posted on Different Strokes, Cricinfo's group blog that I contribute to. Please do visit me there too and read posts by more people and I think this post pales in comparison to any other post on Different Strokes.)


anantha said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

not that i am for makeshift openers, but me thinks sachin should open..that would give him a great chance to re-invent himself and do a world of good to him...as such his career has reached a plateau...


D.N.A. said...

Anti, it would be interesting to look at the subcontinent & outside subcontinent matches split for Gambir, Ramesh and Das.

As far as Sehwag, yes you are right that he had few huge scores. But more than that, his first and second innings avergaes have a huge difference. Nice graphs.

?! said...

Sehwag's hundreds have mostly been huge. Makes the diff@ his average. But of all those tried, I guess S Ramesh has the most to feel sore about.

On the other hand, Anti, methinks you have waay too much free time.


anantha said...

?!: About Ramesh, we will never know. Wright's too much of a diplomat to open his mouth and tell us the sordid saga. Cos one moment he was publicly asking about Ramesh's whereabouts and then nothing. Chopra lost his job because of doing what he was asked to do and was dropped at the smallest hint of a slump, me thinks. Having Chopra around would have helped Sehwag even more, not that he depends on his partner to help him pace his innings, but nevertheless.
About me having too much time, I was without TV or anything for one whole month and staying late at work just for the heck of it, so the graphs came out then. As for writing, believe me, it don't take more than half hour ;)

D.N.A: Ya, I thought about that and then decided that I am not going to heed that subcontinent vs others argument anymore. Because I think that all pitches are slowly becoming ones that could be described as a "bowlers graveyard". And more than a couple of names mentioned there have done decently abroad as well.

Varun: What are you (high) on? Have you heard of the phrase "re-inventing the wheel"??? 'Nuff said, I guess!

Mahadevan said...

Young and newly recruited openers, looking at Sehwag savaging bowlers at the other end, tried go emulate him and perished in that process. Look at experienced ones like Sachin or Dravid, who are able to stand on their one, without being influenced by Sehwag. Among yungsters, Yuvaraj and Dhoni may succeed, when Sehwag plays at the other end. The inference is tha Sehwag unknowingly determines who should bat at the other end.

Aravind said...

Interesting post.I agree with Mahadevan as well.
There were a few openers in the who werent given ne chance like Nikhil haldipur,Jyoti yadav(once a castrol young player awardee)Gagan khoda,Vinayak Mane (whom Mcgrath rated high in a match against Mumbai),connor williams (was given some chance),Ravneet ricky (under 19 success ).I am not sure how well these batsmen will fare and some of em i mentioned are still young.
But looking at whats happening India might not even choose someone for the role of opener as such.

anantha said...

Aravind: The list has many names, man! I think Vinayak Mane is the only player left in your list who has an outside chance. And as for your last line, that is a sorry state of affairs that no other team, apart from India and Pakistan are affected by.

Mahadevan: I don't know if your inference is true. Chopra for one, was a perfect antithesis to Sehwag. And going by the tone of John Wright, it seems that he was asked to adopt that stance and keep one end up. A closer look at the number of minutes that Sehwag and Chopra each spent in the crease will probably tell us a better story about Chopra's skills or the lack thereof. Thats for another day! But I don't definitely want Yuvraj etc to open for India withou opening regularly for other teams in lesser levels. But you know that is impossible, i.e., Indian internationals playing in lower levels. And I don't think we can afford to experiment like this in international cricket. We have a core middle order that still has like two or three years at the maximum to function as a group. So why undermine the team's core by constantly experimenting at the top in the international level?