India’s ascent to the No. 1 spot in Tests was a result of some significant opening partnerships between Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag. No matter which part of the world India toured, these two made it a habit of laying a solid foundation for the team, irrespective of the fact whether India were batting first or chasing. But those two overseas tours in England and Australia probably pegged both these batsmen on the backfoot, and they haven’t managed to recover back, since then.
These two had become an integral part of the team and while it was difficult to imagine who would replace the profilic openers, Dhoni and the selectors decided to try Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the batting order.
When the left-hander was included in the Indian team to make his Test debut in the third match of the series against Australia at Mohali, not much was expected from the southpaw, who had been a revelation in the Indian domestic circuit. But Dhawan had different plans. He grabbed the opportunity with both hands and slammed the fastest ton by an Indian on Test debut. It was one of the best Test knocks by an Indian batsman and it didn’t look as if Dhawan was playing in his first Test innings. An impressive debut guaranteed Dhawan`s place in the ODIs, where he went on to score five tons in 2013. Everything looked perfect for the left-hander and nobody missed the likes of Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag at the top.
But then came the ultimate test for any batsman from the sub-continent – overseas tour. After having an incredible 2013, all eyes were on Dhawan to see whether he could deliver similar results in the seaming conditions of South Africa and New Zealand.
Worst fears came true as Dhawan failed to prove his mettle overseas. In the last seven innings, Dhawan has managed to score just 94 runs from six innings, 32 being his highest score against the Kiwis in the third ODI. While he did look vulnerable against short-pitched deliveries in the past, one wouldn`t have thought that the seamers in South Africa and New Zealand would exploit his weakness to the extent that his form would completely elude him.
On the other hand, Dhawan’s partner Rohit Sharma finds himself in a similar situation. The Mumbaikar followed his IPL triumph in 2013, with a double century in ODIs and a crucial century in his much-awaited Test debut. But the body language changed for the worse the moment he faced pacy wickets in South Africa and despite hitting 79 in the fifth ODI against the Kiwis, Rohit has looked a mediocre batsman overseas.
India have now lost two ODI series in a row. MS Dhoni just cant proceed with a similar approach and blame lack of experience of playing on foreign pitches as an excuse for the failure. While it wouldn’t be too late to include fresh talent for the opening slot, Mahi for sure can make the best utilization of the available resources.
From the current lot, Ajinkya Rahane can open for India. With a much better technique, Rahane can be handy at the top of the order and it’s not as if he doesn’t have the experience of opening the batting for India. He has been a regular opener for the Rajasthan Royals squad and could easily replace one of the openers.
Another move which could possibly solve half of India’s top order woes, is the inclusion of Gautam Gambhir in the team. The southpaw might have struggled to score runs in the early part of 2013, but he made a comeback in the domestic season, where he played pivotal knocks in the Ranji Trophy while playing for Delhi. Despite his good show, the selectors didn’t find him eligible for a place in a team, for any format of the game.
The only possible reason for ignoring Gambhir on a consistent basis, could possibly be his not-so-good terms with MS Dhoni. Their animosity is hidden from nobody and as Dhoni continues to stick with his favourite players, he shouldn’t forget that his decisions could cost India the next World Cup.
Gambhir has been an experienced campaigner for India over the years and his role could be ascertained from the fact that he was the highest scorer for the team in the 2007 T20 World Cup final (75), as well as the ICC World Cup final (97) in 2011, where he played two match-winning innings under Dhoni`s captaincy.
As the current lot of openers is struggling to find their game, it could be a good time to recall the left-hander in the squad — a move that could possibly trigger a healthy competition between the openers as well.
In sports, a team necessarily need not play with a bunch of players who gel together. Players have in the past kept the team`s interests above their personal animosity. Nothing is of bigger importance than defending the World Cup. Dhoni shouldn`t hesitate in picking his best players and keep his personal differences aside. Only then can India take a formidable squad to defend the World Cup.