01 November 2007

Number 3

I doubt the Ganguly-Sachin opening combine would be broken just yet. The plan, for all to see, is to drag it on a little longer. So we move on to the number three position.

The number three position though, is far from settled. Even though conventional wisdom points to a batsman settled at this spot, India, over a period stretching even prior to the Chappell years, have approached the spot with some amount of flexibility. Of course, on some occasions such fluidity has been forced on the managment. On others, Dravid and Chappell pursued it aggressively as strategy. Quite surprisingly, it is VVS Laxman who has walked in at the fall of the first wicket, the most number of times since 2003, having done it 28 times. Ever since he was dropped from the squad to South Africa for the '03 World Cup, it was clear that Laxman would never cement his spot in the ODI team. Nevertheless, India kept going back to him. This is just one more instance of muddled Indian selection. Not only has this held up the development of another ODI batsman, it probably affected Laxman's Test batting as well.

Pathan has batted at number three sixteen times, and is second only to Laxman. Surprisingly,
of the 142 matches he has played since 2003, Dravid has batted at this position only thirteen times. Dhoni has done it eleven times, Kaif ten, Sehwag nine, Yuvraj eight, Gambhir seven, Tendulkar five and Uthappa and Raina have each batted there four times. and surely there are a few more.

Contrast this to Australia. Of the 134 ODIs Ricky Ponting has played since 2003, he has batted at number three in 126 of them. I don't want to use this statistic to extol the virtues of a settled number three position. In the 2003 World Cup, Saurav Ganguly batted at number three for all but two matches of the tournament. Even that does not settle the obvious superiority of this approach. Especially for the Indian captain. After all, is he not a product of the flexible approach that allowed him a platform for creative expression?

Now, assuming that the managment stays predictable and opts for Sachin-Saurav Inc to open, we have the following candidates for the spot.

- Gautam Gambhir
- Virender Sehwag
- Robin Uthappa
- Yuvraj Singh
- S Badrinath
- M S Dhoni
- Irfan Pathan
- Rohit Sharma
- Pravin Kumar

And if Dravid is back after two ODIs, then of course, him too.

It would be surprising to see any of the last five at the position. Such a ploy may work, but it won't sustain itself over a series or more. Of the rest, one has to say that all of Sehwag, Gambhir, Uthappa and Yuvraj have a claim on the spot. Yuvraj is used to coming in a little later, but there is no point in worshipping the dharma of youth if the ultra-experienced and uber-talented Yuvraj still does not or is not allowed to take responsibility for the batting. Gambhir is the man riding a purple patch. Sehwag should be given a chance to storm back, and Uthappa has proven just as destructive at the bottom of the lineup. Since this is such a tough choice, one is likely to see more shuffling. A couple of failures could see Sehwag either sit out or move to the lower middle order to make space for Gambhir or Uthappa.

1 comment:

Jrod said...

I think Yuvraj would make an interesting number 3.