Sydney: Ever since Sourav Ganguly hung his boots in the winter of 2008, the number six slot has got Team India in crosshairs and the problem continues with Virat Kohli failing miserably in the first Test against Australia.
Yuvraj Singh, Suresh Raina and now Virat Kohli have all been suitors for this position and have had their moments at courtship yet failed to cement the slot and live happily thereafter.
Ganguly turned his back on international cricket against Australia at Nagpur in the winter of 2008 after a career of 113 Tests which yielded 7212 runs and 16 centuries and an average of 42.18. Through good and bad times, highs and lows, snide and derision, Ganguly served Indian batting line-up for a dozen years.
In the 34 Tests since he retired, the team has struggled to hold the lower half together, especially on foreign pitches where skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni is unrecognizable from the sturdy presence he exudes on home turf.
In the 57 innings that Yuvraj managed out of his 37 Tests, as many as 39 of them were at number six. He did average 38.83 at the position and hit three centuries but all of them came in the sub-continent.
There isn`t any innings of substance elsewhere. Indeed there are a mere two fifties abroad which don`t do justice to his talent or the numerous opportunities which came his way.
Suresh Raina, still young, has 15 Tests and 26 innings which presently has hit the pause button. Nineteen of his innings have come at number six and he averages 35.72 from them, including a century.
But his summer in England this year, brutally exposed his frailty against short-pitched deliveries. In four Tests, he made 105 runs at 13.13 average.
It`s now Virat Kohli who is struggling to bridge the gap between ODIs and Test matches. His assurance of one-dayers is copiously missing in Tests. In 10 innings of five Tests, the Delhi youngster has scratched together a total of 202 runs at 22.44 average.
Number six is a pivotal position for any good side. It`s at this position that batsman usually negotiates the second new ball and is called upon to help tailenders eke out important runs.
Most great sides of the world had a brilliant number six batsman. The great Clive Lloyd occupied either number five or six position mostly in his career of 110 Tests and ensured the great West Indian side of 70s and 80s gave no opening whatsoever to the opposition.
With the great Australian side of the 90s and 2000, it was the turn of Steve Waugh and Adam Gilchrist to do the duty. Waugh averaged over 50 at number six and Gilchrist likewise at number seven.
A look at the present sides in international cricket offers a good reflection. Mike Hussey walked in at number six at MCG and cracked 89 which, on hindsight, was a match-defining innings.
AB de Villiers for South Africa has a rock-like presence and averages 47-odd in the position. Ian Bell averages a solid 58 at number six.
India`s collapse in the first innings at MCG is a case in point. Without a solid number six, the advantage of the second innings was quickly lost. Kohli`s second failure in the match ensured there was no fight-back from the Indian camp.
Number six is a position where a batsman necessarily ought to be good against pace bowling and be a good stroke-player, both off the front and backfoot. In many ways, this position is as vital as number three is any line-up.
How India would`ve wished for a Rahul Dravid at number six as well.