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Solid opening pair need of the hour

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PETER ROEBUCK
PETER ROEBUCK

Both sets of selectors ought to be preparing their batting orders for the future

Five days is a long time to spend pursuing an exercise in futility. Admittedly worse happens in other walks of life. Explorers search in vain for a hidden passage and are buried in the oceans before it is found. Scientists dedicated their lives to finding an elusive cure. Painters and composers answer their muses but no one listens or sees and they pass away buried in obscurity's cold embrace. As a rule, sportsmen enjoy the prospect of immediate rewards and results. Often it is this starkness that tempts and torments them. Time is seldom wasted.

All the more reason to reject the rituals presented as romances in the last fortnight, Five days is a long time to spend playing a match whose outcome is clear before a ball has been bowled. Sport is supposed to pit teams against each other in exposing conflict. Instead the prime cricketers of India and Pakistan have been involved in an activity so biased in favour of batsmen that the contest has deteriorated from an examination into an exhibition. As each day has passed so the soul had died a little more.

Since the pitches are the responsibility of the hosts, Indians cannot say much about them. Instead captain, coach and selectors must search for insights that will help to point them in the right direction. One fact cannot be ignored. At present India and Pakistan are managing without a steady pair of openers.

Temporary measures

Shoaib Malik has been walking out first for his country, a worthy cricketer but hardly a trusted opener to be sent out in any conditions to take the sting out of any attack. Rahul Dravid has been launching the innings for his team. Dravid is superb at first wicket down, a specialist position requiring particular qualities. Both selections have all the hallmarks of temporary measures. Both selections have been designed to accommodate a highly regarded middle-order.

It cannot last. Admittedly the first wicket combination is not so important on dry sub-continental pitches but that can be a trap. Both sets of selectors ought to be preparing their batting orders for the future. Any fool can flog weary attacks on dead surfaces. Much harder to find batsmen capable of surviving a session in Perth or scoring a hundred on a holding surface in Manchester. Yet these days lie ahead.

Any team hoping to prosper overseas must win the battle of the new ball. Sooner or later these line-ups will face tougher conditions and then the cry will go out for staunch batsmen to protect the middle-order from the new ball. Beyond doubt it takes time for a sub-continental opener to learn his trade. Experience is needed. Until these fellows have been exposed to firm or damp pitches they will assume their wristy techniques can meet any challenges.

Over the years the region has produced only a handful of openers belonging to the very highest class, players with the footwork, courage and technique needed to prosper on bouncy Australian tracks and seaming English surfaces. No stone can be left unturned in the search for batsman with the required character. Once identified, these men must be trained till they are ready for anything.

India has missed a chance to let its future opening pair settle down in mild conditions. Happily it has not been all bad. India has found a couple of young cricketers capable of maturing into fine allrounders. Pathan and Dhoni have batted with gusto. Hereafter India can play five bowlers without fearing imminent collapse. Now it is a matter of finding a solid opening pair.

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