Virender Sehwag’s individual brilliance may have caused many to overlook the sterling contribution by his opening partner Gautam Gambhir – and that of the pair itself. They have reminded me of the days when Roy Fredericks and Gordon Greendige opened the innings for the mighty West Indies.
I know that Greenidge and Desmond Haynes were more successful as a pair but, in my books, Fredericks and Greenidge were the most devastating partnership. In the more recent years, Australia’s Matthew Hayden and Justin Langer have frustrated bowlers from round the world and made opposing captains scratch their heads in a strange blend of dismay and awe. Not too long ago, all of India was envious of Saeed Anwar and Aamir Sohail forging a fine partnership for Pakistan.
Back home, we have read quite a bit about Vijay Merchant and Mushtaq Ali’s dashing skills as opening batsmen – they averaged 83.42 runs an innings – but the truth is that they played in just four Tests and opened in seven innings and totalled 584 runs. Sunil Gavaskar and Chetan Chauhan may have clocked 3010 runs together at 53.57 runs per innings but the fact is that they were, at best, solid – and not attacking – opening batsmen.
If you thought that the mercurial K Srikkanth and Navjot Singh Sidhu, both quite capable strokeplayers, would have given Mushtaq Ali and Merchant a run for their money, you are in for a surprise. They walked out to bat together in just 11 innings with a highest stand of 82 runs.
Without meaning any disrespect to Wasim Jaffer and Aakash Chopra who have been part of fairly successful partnerships with Sehwag, I think none of Sehwag’s partners has actually been as comfortable batting with him as Gambhir has. And, no, it’s not because I live in Delhi that I reckon the Viru-Gauti show will rock like no other pair of opening batsmen has.
So, let’s take a good look at the traits of this partnership that make me project it as having the potential to be the most exciting, if not finish as the greatest, pair that India has had. Individually and together, they convey the impression that they are in control from the very first ball, sighting and judging the line and length pretty quickly and dealing with that effectively with perfect timing and placement. They are now establishing themselves as a pair to be feared – and admired, too.
For a nation that grew up believing that primary and sole function of the opening pair is to see off the new ball without any damage, both Sehwag and Gambhir bat with almost Caribbean disdain. They do not just confine themselves to just playing the new ball but make oodles of runs against it.
During the recently-concluded Galle Test, they exhibited a composure and temperament against all kinds of bowlers – fastmedium and the two mystery spinners Muttiah Muralitharan and Ajantha Mendis – that made everyone move to the edge of the seats. It was very clear that they were enjoying themselves hugely.
The left-hand-right-hand combination helps them affect the rhythm of the bowlers and when they get going, they cause a demoralising effect in the opposition ranks. Their ability to complement one another stems from the fact that they play for ONGC in club cricket, Delhi Daredevils in IPL, Delhi in the Ranji Trophy and North Zone in Duleep and Deodhar Trophy besides India in all three formats of the game – T20, ODI and now Tests.
There is an implicit faith that is at the root of their communication with one another, showcasing it in their running between the wickets. There is a selflessness in their responses to one another’s calls for sharp runs that helps rotate the strike and upsets the the bowler and fielders alike.
What then are the hurdles that can stop Sehwag and Gambhir from finishing the game as the greatest pair of opening batsmen that India has ever had? Besides obvious factors like injury and loss of form or the left-hander’s inconsistency, the biggest threat to this combination comes from either batsman having to bat at No. 3 or lower.
That could be a distinct possibility when some of the majestic middle-order quartet of Rahul Dravid, Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly and VVS Laxman fade away from the Test team. One of the openers may have to become a part of the shadow quartet that comprises Yuvraj Singh, Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Rohit Sharma unless Suresh Raina, S Badrinath or Mohammed Kaif steps up the plate.
That, of course, is still some distance away and I am sure the Viru-Gauti opening pair will entertain fans and offer India more than a few superb starts for many more Tests, establishing itself as a wonderful team within Team India. It has already added 1320 runs at 60 per innings and promises to overtake the Gavaskar-Chauhan combination’s aggregate in quick time. It is destined for greatness, isn’t it?