December 22, 2007

A “Heir Raising” story.

To accommodate Indian cricket’s burgeoning list of stars, often a player must pay the price. Ironically sometimes even in the same person, star glitter outshines player value. A stray thought: when it’s all over, will these stars perform in Las Vegas? Will they make it to the OSO guest-list-song remix? Or will they, no, can they settle for the humdrum of a commentary box – where the only play is a turn of phrase, a play of words.

Such is the stature of some Indian cricketers, that it’s not unreasonable to expect a trail of comebacks from them – who knows one day they may even play sporting Big B’s trademark white goatee. Of course, Vinod Kambli has one. Though he hasn’t played in a while.

Beards aside, it’s a hair-raising thought how some players must deal with success, and even answer for it. Often, a strut is mistaken for arrogance, acrobats at point for showmanship, lightheartedness as immaturity, prized Porsches as God-knows-what.

But should success in the shorter version work against a player’s ability in test matches? Flipping the argument, are T20 and ODI heroics a barometer for test adaptability? It’s all up to Yuvraj Singh. He can either end the argument in Australia or leave the debate wide open.

Right now however, the debate rages on: Whether the sheer power of personality, many outstanding T20 and ODI innings and one exceptional test hundred warrant a review of India’s test openers?

While India’s middle order is sacrosanct, the openers are expendable. Had Sunil Gavaskar played his cricket now, he too would’ve been better off in the middle order. Until a tough tour to Australia may have forced him to open – to accommodate a promising middle order player. Of course, that would have cost one of the openers their spot – or maybe the opener would’ve walked into a tree and bruised his shoulder. It hurts being an Indian opener.

Going by the solitary warm-up game versus Victoria, Rahul Dravid, India’s mainstay at number three looks likely to open with Wasim Jaffer in the Melbourne test. This will, as even every cricket ignoramus knows, accommodate the heir apparent, Yuvraj Singh. Pardon the pun, but this can be a “Heir Raising” move – and put India’s future test vice captain, and possible captain in his place – the test team. After all, it’s tough being captain when you can’t make the team.

In the long run, can this prove to be a masterstroke? Going by the shrinking shelf life of Indian captains, and the topsy-turvy ways of our cricket in general, the team needs Yuvraj Singh in the test mix – that is assuming he takes to test cricket like Yuvi took to T20. Look around, barring MS Dhoni there is no likely successor to Anil Kumble as test captain.

But it still defies logic for Rahul Dravid to open the innings. If anything, Yuvraj’s place should be at the cost of another middle order batsman – a player, not a superstar? Cruel yet the lesser of the two evils - as today, both Tendulkar and Ganguly are untouchable. Ideally VVS Laxman should play, but not at the cost of Dravid opening, but as a middle order bat instead of Yuvraj Singh. But then, Indian cricket is far from ideal; on the contrary it’s replete with contradictions.

Of course, going by Dinesh Karthik’s and Virender Sewhag’s uncertain form off late, neither make compelling choices to partner Wasim Jaffer – which makes it obvious that both players are fallback options in case of an eventuality, like one of the openers/other batsmen injuring themselves or rather, Brett Lee or Shaun Tait doing the honours. Had India planned ahead, Sehwag could have played, even opened in the third test versus Pakistan – runs were to be had, bowlers to be bullied, confidence to be gained. Yuvraj will vouch for that.

Rahul Dravid opening plus Yuvraj Singh and VVS Laxman in the same eleven is possible because of 1) VVS’ good form through the last few series 2) Ganguly and Jaffer scoring heavily 3) Dinesh Karthik’s below par Pak series. For now, everyone is happy. India’s latest darling, Yuvi is almost certainly in. As is the fall guy, and fallback man, VVS Laxman. So, are the big names that make the grand tally of 30,000 test runs as Anil Kumble reminds us. It doesn’t matter who plays where, as long as they all play!

Crucially, Dravid mentioned the ten-minute changeover between test innings – the bane of opening batsmen. Even if Dravid is accustomed to walk in early at the fall of the first wicket, it’s a far cry from being an opener. For one, as he says, “it’s a different mindset”. Whether it is for cricket or non-cricketing reasons, in the last few series, Dravid’s mindset seems to have changed. With a lean patch versus England and Pakistan not quite behind him, will the opening slot add further pressure? Or will it be yet another redemption song? With nearly 7500 runs (from 146 innings) at No. 3 at an average of over 57, compared to 369 runs (from 13innings) opening at an average of 33, picking slots is a no-brainer. But then that’s Indian cricket for you.

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