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A chance for Jaffer to redeem himself

S. Ram Mahesh

Reward for excellent domestic form

  • Sehwag has scored 3300 runs in 38 Tests
  • Jaffer has hit a big 267 in Ranji Trophy this season
  • Dravid stands by Gambhir in the latter's hour of woe

    New Delhi: While the most obvious implication of the BCCI selectors' decision to drop Sourav Ganguly for the third Test against Sri Lanka found its expression in the shock some journalists betrayed in the press conference, the wider message the five wise men have sent out is far more interesting.

    Despite three successive failures, Delhi opener Gautam Gambhir was retained in the squad and the man replacing Ganguly — Wasim Jaffer — happens to take first strike when the umpires call play. Kiran More, chairman of the selection committee, said while the middle order looked solid with Mohammad Kaif and the "talented" Suresh Raina waiting in the wings, the opening slot was "definitely a concern area."

    Victim of the syndrome

    Ganguly finds himself a victim of the syndrome that marked his time at the helm — the impenetrable middle order. Yuvraj Singh's unbeaten 77 has nailed down the No. 6 spot, and the only entry to the Indian batting line up continues to be at the top.

    India has gone through openers like some notable women have through shoes. Sadagopan Ramesh, S.S. Das, and Aakash Chopra were all projected as the nation's new world-class opener but dips in form, selection whims, perceived inabilities to take charge, and technical shortcomings have combined to shunt them to the periphery since.

    For all the talk of how an opener needs to blunt fast bowling with orthodoxy, and of how middle-order batsmen will never make the north-bound transition, the most successful man in recent times to realise that role adheres to neither tenet.

    Virender Sehwag, asked to open first in 2002 in England where the ball does rummy things both in the air and off the track, has run up a record of 3300 runs in 38 Tests at 55. His return after illness at Ahmedabad will tie up one loose end; Jaffer could handle the other. Gambhir's dismissals in the series have a common thread. On each occasion, he has ended up playing across the line of left-armer Chaminda Vaas's over-the-wicket angle.

    Similar ends

    While the ends have been similar, the methods that have brought the left-hander there have varied slightly. In the first innings at Delhi, his leading right shoulder fell away and his bottom hand pushed through, opening his upper body to one that seamed away. In the second stint, as if to compensate for squaring up, he plonked his front foot too far across and failed to bring his bat around his front pad in time.

    "Gambhir is a specialist opener. He has had three failures, but his record before that is quite good," skipper Rahul Dravid had said before the selectors announced the team. "A lot of people fail in three consecutive innings." So while Jaffer, who last played a Test at Trent Bridge in August 2002, may get a chance in Ahmedabad, the selectors have indicated that Gambhir is a "long-term" prospect, and the forthcoming tour to Pakistan could well see both accompanying Sehwag.

    The twenty-seven-year-old Jaffer's recall is reward for excellent domestic form. A century and two fifties in three Duleep Trophy encounters, and 267 against Delhi in the season-opening Ranji Trophy match have caught the eyes of those who matter. A tall, upright player with the ability to drive elegantly off either foot, Jaffer hasn't been able to replicate his domestic fecundity at the highest level.

    A tendency to not flex his front knee enough and hence push his hands at the ball has caused him grief on the big stage. A record of 261 runs in 7 Tests at 20.07 is along the lines of what Marvan Atapattu, Jacques Kallis and Matthew Hayden did in their early days. They have gone on to greater things, and Jaffer now has a chance, as they did, at redemption.

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