What opening pair should India employ for the forthcoming Test series against South Africa? Let us analyse...

Wednesday, March 12, 2022

South Africa's tour of India - The opening dilemma

Krishna Tunga

Indians have a genuine problem at the opening slot as they are unable to get the right combination in the Test arena. The recently concluded four-Test series against Australia saw three different pair of openers. The first-wicket partnership read the following scores – 4, 26, 8, 3, 57, 45, 34 & 2 – the desperation was so severe that they had Irfan Pathan opening with the comeback Sehwag for the last Test match at Adelaide!

Should India go back to the successful Sehwag-Jaffer combination for the Chennai Test?

India banked heavily on the middle-order experience of Sachin, Laxman, Dravid & for the last Test at Adelaide, Sehwag contributed with two big scores as an opener. The explosive batsman from Delhi made a comeback to the Indian squad after a long gap during the WACA Test where he gave his team a much-needed confident start, scoring at the rate of 4 runs/over. India has managed to post a decent total ever since his return to Test cricket, however his form has waned in limited-overs matches.

Meanwhile the Australians managed to post an average of 70.71 in the series, with Matthew Hayden's new partner Phil Jacques featuring in two centuries stands.

India needs a consistent opening pair and it appears as if the team has not been ready to give a combination enough opportunity.

Last time when India played against the South Africans they had Pollock and Ntini troubling them with swing and bounce. The Indians went with the Jaffer–Sehwag combination, however both were found wanting, getting out in similar fashion, either bold, lbw or caught in the slips cordon, all on the off-side. Jaffer in particular was not sure where his off-stump was. During the last Test match they got Dinesh Karthik to open the innings and it paid fruit as India put on 153 runs for the opening stand and scored their highest total in the series, although lost the Test by a narrow margin!

The pair of Karthik-Jaffer flourished during the latter part of the Bangladesh tour and it continued in England where they won the series after 21 years. The pair showed consistency as they averaged 53.66 in the 3 Test series.

Next came the Pakistan series and the return of Shoaib Akthar, for them, the bowling looked toothless without Asif and Gul – but Shoaib managed to intimidate Karthik and India never got a good start, the openers averaged just 19.83 in 3 Test matches, with one fifty. The last Test match in Banglore saw the return of Gambhir , but he too couldn't get them a decent start.

In the last 5 series(15 Tests) the Indians managed to score 400 plus on 8 occasions and the openers have only 3 hundred plus stands in those big scores, failing in the last 7 Test matches with the middle order bailing them out on most occasions.

One year from now and India would have played an exhausting amount of Test matches, never before have they played 21 in a single year! They desperately need to find the right-combination and not pick make-shift openers like they have done in the past. Most of the Test matches out of the 21 will be played at home so it would be much easier for them to find the right-combination.

Right Combination?

Dinesh Karthik had a brilliant tour of England but has flopped ever since
The Indians selectors have a tendency to pick make-shift openers and only look at the on-going series without thinking of the future.

Rahul Dravid, Irfan Pathan & Virender Sehwag have been filling in the role in the last series. If the team needs a big total than they need to get a decent start with a run-rate of 3 or more/over. Players like Dravid & Jaffer have not proven capable of doing that, and the middle order is filled with experienced players, Dravid is best suited at his favorite position at three. Jaffer's last 7 innings fetched him 84 runs (17-18-4-15-3-0-16 & 11)

The selectors need to define a definitive role for the openers for the next 12 months.

The just concluded ODI series has opened up another opportunity for Gautam Gambhir who top scored in that series with two tons. Although he came regularly at #3 in that series, he should be the front runner for the opening spot. Gambhir can play a big innings with blend of aggression. Finding his partner won't be that difficult, it should be thrusted back to Karthik. By nature both these batsmen are aggressive and if one of them gets out early, there will be Dravid to drop the anchor.

Virendra Sehwag too won't be a bad choice but then his partner should be Gambhir rather than Karthik as both Delhities are the best pair of runners in the country.

Sehwag's running between the wickets is not very good and when his partner is not Gambhir, he becomes very hesitant and usually gets out in silly circumstances. Also the fact with Sehwag is his inconsistency with the bat, like in Australia after scoring 63, 151 in the last Test match, his form faded and was unable to give the Indians a great start, which might add more burden to his partner and the middle-order.

Proteas marred with similar woes

Graeme Smith is finding it difficult to find a right partner to open with him in Test matches. They reverted back to Neil McKenzie for the just concluded series in Bangladesh, although the first Test match they almost lost getting bundled out for 170 but managed to win the second with much ease. The second Test match saw them break the world record for the opening stand. Smith –McKenzie put on 415 beating ROY- MANKAD's 400-

However one needs to ask whether McKenzie is the answer for them. Before this they had Herschelle Gibbs opening with Smith but in the last 3 series (7 Test matches) they averaged just 27.36 featuring only 2 fifties !


Pair of Openers Tests Runs Opening average 50s/100s Series
Jaffer-Dravid/Sehwag 4 179 22.37 1/0 Australia
Jaffer-Karthik/Gambhir 3 119 19.83 1/0 Pakistan
Jaffer-Karthik 3 322 53.66 1/1 England
Jaffer-Karthik 2 408 136 0/1 Bangladesh
Jaffer-Sehwag 3 212 35.33 0/1 South Africa
Total 15 1240 42.75 3/3  




Openers score Australia Pakistan England Bangladesh South Africa
Jaffer 49/3 179 22.37 1/0 Australia
Sehwag 286/2 119 19.83 1/0 Pakistan
Karthik Dnp 322 53.66 1/1 England
Gambhir Dnp 408 136 0/1 Bangladesh
Dravid 112/2 212 35.33 0/1 South Africa
Total 15 1240 42.75 3/3