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Home > Cricket > Columns > The Wisden Verdict on India
December 4, 2001

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 South Africa

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The accidental opener

Amit Varma

Time stands still when Deep Dasgupta bats -- because he's so very boring. He has a few strokes, but none of them are attractive to watch. He shows the ball the full face of his bat, but mostly in resolute defence. Deep Dasgupta is not a pretty sight, but he embodies everything Indian cricket lacks, and yet so desperately needs.

Maybe he takes inspiration from Justin Langer, another accidental opener who has excelled in recent times, purely through grit and character. But Langer was a middle-order bat who played enough at No. 3 to be familiar with the new ball; Dasgupta was just a sacrificial lamb.

When Dasgupta opened in the second Test in South Africa, at Port Elizabeth, it was a makeshift arrangement which nobody thought could last. The team management did not have enough confidence in the second opener given to them by the selectors, Connor Williams. They tried Rahul Dravid in the first Test, but he was both unsuccessful and reluctant in that position. Speculation raged as to who would open at Port Elizabeth; VVS Laxman was sounded out, he declined. Then Sourav Ganguly, with great reluctance, said he would do the job.

The hour had come, and so did the man. Dasgupta stepped up and offered to do the job. He went on to show rare resolve and application, and saved the match for India with a gritty fifty in the second innings. Strangely, Ganguly did not persist with him, and Williams opened in the game at Centurion. Then came Mohali, and Dasgupta was back at the top.

No paeans will be sung, no poems written about the way he batted today. None of the bowlers - barring Flintoff, sporadically - was particularly menacing, but Dasgupta did not try to punish them, as Tendulkar, Laxman et al surely would have. Time was not of the essence: this was a Test match, and he played as if he wanted to bat forever.

The first two sessions were dreary, and welcome; only 126 runs were added before tea, but only one wicket was lost, a refreshing statistic given the batting collapses India has engineered in recent times.

Dasgupta and nightwatchman Anil Kumble were actually the ideal batsmen for India when play resumed. Both had showed courage and had put a price on their wicket in South Africa - Kumble at Centurion - and for a team that badly has to learn how to play out morning sessions without losing too many wickets, their stodginess was just what the team needed. They added 53 runs in 164 deliveries - Kumble made 37 in 86 - and by the time Rahul Dravid strode out to bat, the advantage of the newish ball and the morning conditions had been completely nullified.

Dravid played a characteristic anchor role, as he and Dasgupta added 136 invaluable runs in 279 balls. They sped up after tea, and Dasgupta completed a richly deserved century, off 252 deliveries, his first in International cricket. Both Dravid and Dasgupta played some lovely strokes, as did Tendulkar when he came to the crease, but there has always been plenty of flair in Indian innings. It was the resilience which was cause for celebration.

The dilemma India face with Dasgupta is that the primary task of a wicketkeeper is to keep well, and Dasgupta was quite horrid behind the stumps; against Harbhajan, at times, he looked a baby juggling lego blocks. But he has shown the willingness to learn, and the character to persevere, and if given enough chances, will surely redeem himself in that area of the game as well. India need him to.

Amit Varma is assistant editor, India.

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