Monday, February 05, 2007

The great Indian Middle Order dilemma

Our friend Scribbler declares "Tendulkar and Ganguly must open". I look around and expect no protest even from a million miles. I cannot think of a protest statement against their kind of accomplishment when it is accompanied by the heartening reclamation of form that both great batsmen are showing a month away from the world Cup.

After Team India's dismal ODI whitewash in South Africa, Tendulkar was pushed down to the middle order ahead of the 1st ODI clash versus West Indies. Reason: The Indian juggernaut had numerous wheels on the outside but on testing passages only three of them - Sachin, Sourav and Dravid - look any good to carry it over the 50 over mark. Making them bat at the top three batting positions looked too big a risk for comfort.

Cut to the end of the 4th ODI after a 3-1 series win against India's chief tormentors over the past year. Suddenly the team has a problem of plenty.

In these 4 Indo-WI matches the Indian innings had used up its overs twice without the number 6 batsman having a hit, and on another occasion the top and middle order had done even better with the run rate till the lower order squandered away the advantage. This, inspite of having experimented with a few new batsmen.

Assuming flat batting tracks to be the norm in the upcoming World Cup, India are likely to opt for the 4-bowlers-plus-Pathan format. That leaves Dhoni (The world no. 3 ODI batsman at present) with an 'upgradable no. 6' slot and the others to share the balance 5 positions. The 'others' are Sachin, Ganguly, Sehwag, Uthappa, Dravid, Yuvraj, Karthik.

Now for the principal cause of the dilemma: display of good form and - importantly - international class by a couple of folks originally envisaged to have little more than 'standby' roles. Robin Uthappa has looked classy, aggressive and relentless enough to make a few World Cup teams lose sleep over plotting his dismissal; Dinesh Karthik, a standby for the entire Dhoni package or part thereof, showed flashes of grit all through the South African series and has now scored his highest ODI score on a tricky track which saw many greats bite the dust.

Leaving them out of the playing XI is going to be tough, like dropping Gambhir from the squad against SL was. Also Sehwag has to score NOW to get back his position in the World Cup playing XI. Moreover that does not solve ALL the problems.

Let us explore the option of the team reversing to a Ganguly-Tendulkar opening for the WC as per Scribbler's wishes. Where, then, do we plan to slot Yuvraj, who had a dream last season that saw him in a new-found Finisher avatar unconquerable to all weaponry except a fortune-swinging Bravo slower ball but now finds herself returning from a serious knee injury as the weakest link in the Indian top order? Should it be number 5? For a player of Yuvraj's talent and extraordinary strokeplaying finesse that should be too low a batting position in ODI's.

So we aim to give young Yuvraj number 4. If he shows form in the Sri Lanka matches then we may even put him in at No. 3 while pushing one-down Dravid down to number four for steadying the ship in case it gets rocked early. But what about Veeru then? Are we not failing to utilise Sehwag's innate ability to hit over the top during the powerplays by relegating him to late middle order for the slog, a slog that is already well laden on the strong shoulders of Dhoni and Pathan?

On the flip side, would Tendulkar have not controlled the lower middle order proceedings better than Sehwag, just as a Sehwag in marauding form would have more to offer as an opener than Sachin at the top?

And we are not even speaking of the 'field' guys from Uttar Pradesh, Raina and Kaif, who stake their stifled claims to a World Cup berth principally on the back of being brilliant fielders for a side in eternal need of such men.....

Loads of questions there - I hope the selectors call correctly.

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