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Opening puzzle still unsolved

M R Mishra | April 09, 2004 16:28 IST

The Indian team management is still undecided about its opening combination in the crucial third Test against Pakistan but it appears that Akash Chopra may get the axe in order to accomodate Yuvraj Singh who cannot be kept out because of his excellent performances with the bat while substituting for captain Sourav Ganguly in the first two Tests.

The team think tank is considering various options regarding who will partner Virender Sehwag -- Yuvraj, Ganguly  or wicket keeper Parthiv Patel, who made a defiant unbeaten 62 in the second Test in Lahore, which India lost by nine wickets to set the stage for an absorbing decider starting in Rawalpindi on Tuesday.

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While Ganguly has opened for a long time in one-dayers, he may not be all too keen to do this job in the Test matches in which case the choice would be between Yuvraj and Parthiv.

While Parthiv has opened in one Test match against New Zealand, Yuvraj is not a regular opener even for his state  Punjab for which he has opened a couple of times.

While Yuvraj may not appear a convincing opener, the success of Sehwag has proved that technique is not everything. Yuvraj is quick to see the ball and is oozing with confidence having hit a century against Pakistan in the Lahore Test.

Yuvraj struck a masterly maiden Test century in the Lahore match at a time when the side was in dire straits and the team management may find it difficult to leave him out for the crucial match.

With the captain having joined his team-mates after sitting out of the first two Tests due to a lower back injury, the visitors will have to leave out a batsman from the final eleven.

Yuvraj, who is regarded as a one-day specialist, has proved that he is not out of place in the longer version of the game, scoring his maiden century in only his third Test appearance.

Chopra had a reasonably successful tour of Australia as he often did the job of blunting out the formidable Aussie  pace attack comprising the likes of Brett Lee and Jason Gillespie though he could not convert the starts into big scores.

He was dismissed in the 40s much too often but stayed at the crease for long enough to see off the new ball and tire out the Aussie pacemen.

Harsh as it may seem, the axe may fall on Chopra, who has scores of 42, 4, 5 in this series so far, in order to make way for the talented Yuvraj in the team.

The omission of Chopra would mean that the Indians would go into the Test with a brand new opening pair. Although the team management has given no such indication yet, it is believed Yuvraj may be asked to open the innings along with Sehwag.

Ganguly has evaded questions on the much-debated opening slot saying the team would be finalised only after taking into consideration the conditions and pitch in Rawalpindi.

Although he praised Yuvraj, he left the field open by his comment that "a player cannot be judged on the basis of one or two performances".

His deputy, Rahul Dravid, rubbished suggestions that reports of Chopra being left out from the team had affected  his performance in the second Test.

"Such things are never discussed in the dressing room. That's the charm of the game in our country, so much is being  discussed in the living rooms. We have never been affected by these things," said Dravid who led the team in Ganguly's absence in the first two Tests.

The opening combination has been a perennial problem for the Indian time for a long time. Openers have come and gone, middle order batsmen have been asked to open at times, but an ideal combination has eluded Indian cricket.

But Sehwag, a middle-order batsman turned opener, and Chopra have showed signs of sorting out the opening blues with their contrasting batting styles and a fairly good partnership ratio.

Sehwag and Chopra have opened the batting together in eight Tests now -- two home Tests against New Zealand, four away against Australia and now two in Pakistan. In these matches they have posted four 100-run opening stands, the last of which was 160 at Multan.

India have lacked consistency at the top of the order, since the time Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan (2901 runs at 49.17) opened the innings. There was a brief time when Sadagoppan Ramesh and Shiv Sunder Das did well (836 runs at 44), but their association did not last long.

What has been heartening is that three of the century stands by Chopra and Sehwag have come on overseas tours, the lowest of 123 coming against Australia in Melbourne. The Chopra-Sehwag combine had racked up 864 runs at an average of 57.60, which is the highest for any Indian opening pair.

The other Indian opening pairs who have an average of above 40 are: Gavaskar-Krishnamachari Srikkanth (1569 runs, average 43.21), Navjot Singh Sidhu-Manoj Prabhakar (748 runs, ave 44.00), Sidhu-Nayan Mongia (469 runs, ave 46.90), Sehwag-Sanjay Bangar (452 runs, ave 45.20).

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