Opening partnerships vital to Test success — as India prove to their detriment in West Indies

In part II of his Eye on India column, Dileep Premachandran looks at the negative impact of India's inconsistent team selection during the Test series against the West Indies.

Shikhar Dhawan’s form has been nothing other than patchy. Ricardo Mazalan / AP Photo
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Ignore what the glamour boys in the middle order tell you. Opening the batting and seeing off the new ball is the hardest job in cricket.

Many of the greatest Test sides were built around rock-solid opening combinations. England, before the second World War, had Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe. During their years of dominance, West Indies relied heavily on Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes.

When Australia took over the mantle at the turn of the millennium, the partnership of Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer gave them an enviable platform.

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Indian cricket’s best years — between 2008 and 2011 — also coincided with Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir averaging 52.52 as an opening combination.

Since both men lost form and their places in the side, India have struggled to find that sort of consistency.

Murali Vijay has been a pillar of stability over the past couple of years, but Shikhar Dhawan’s form has been nothing other than patchy. KL Rahul has scored three centuries, interspersed with several single-digit scores.

In the Caribbean, India’s selection policy has been quite bizarre. Vijay was injured during the first Test, and Rahul came in to partner Dhawan for the second. For the third Test in St. Lucia, the fit-again Vijay was ignored so that Rohit Sharma could be slotted into the XI at No 5. Cheteshwar Pujara, who has struggled to build on starts over the past two seasons, was dropped.

Now, in rain-hit Trinidad, a Test India have to win to keep the No 1 ranking ahead of Pakistan, Dhawan and Ravindra Jadeja, who played just the one Test, have made way for Vijay and Pujara.

Virat Kohli, the captain, has spoken of the need for flexibility in team selection, but on this tour that has reached circus-contortion extremes.

It doesn’t augur well ahead of series against New Zealand, England and Australia, who have three of the strongest pace attacks in the game.

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