Who should open for India?

With all the selection questions for England it is easy to forget that India are hardly a settled side themselves. They appear to have managed to find a full-time spinner in Ravichandran Ashwin and a decent middle order batsman in Virat Kohli, both of which will worry England somewhat, but apart from that a lot of the questions that were prominently raised during India’s 0-8 tours of England and Australia in 2011 and 2012 are still very much open ones.

One of the biggest is that of their openers, who have been struggling. Of course it is not uncommon for openers to have a slightly torrid time in the more bowler friendly conditions of England and especially with England’s attack dismantling the Indian order indiscriminately in 2011 it was hard to place any particular blame on the openers, a certain king pair notwithstanding. But the problem for India is that their established opening pair of Gambhir and Sehwag have both been struggling overall in the past year and more. Since the start of 2011 they average only thirty for the first wicket and whilst it is better at home (as one would expect) they still did not manage any century partnerships against the West Indies or New Zealand, neither of whom have overpowering attacks. And perhaps especially worrying for India is that their openers particularly struggled against the New Zealand pace attack which bears many similarities to the one England will bring to bear in Hyderabad next month.

There does not seem to be any immediate desire for change at the top of the order, though Gambhir himself deflected questions about his and Sehwag’s form by saying they still average 53 together and ‘if 53 is not good enough, I don’t know what is good enough’. It may well be that the selectors will continue to give them lenience on the basis of performances in the increasingly distant past; such behaviour is quite common in all cricket and especially it seems in the current Indian set up. But Chetan Chauhan and Sunil Gavaskar also average 53 as an opening pair (in fact a higher 53 than Gambhir and Sehwag) and they don’t seem to be in line for a recall so perhaps Gambhir should start to worry.

I have said in the past that I would not ever play Sehwag in overseas Tests and that is still very much the case. And it is starting to get to the point where I would not play him in India either as he looks increasingly fragile. The one thing that keeps both him and Gambhir in the side at least for the England series, however, (for me at least, I doubt very much that the selectors are thinking along similar lines) is that the rest of the batting order is also in a state of upheaval. Dravid and Laxman have already retired and Tendulkar could at any time. As long as Gambhir and Sehwag are not performing so poorly as to be a clear liability I would keep them around if for no other reason then to keep some measure of stability. But they both should be on very short leashes and if they continue to get worse then stability will have to take a backseat.

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