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.)