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These are not artists from the circus for whom life inside the big tent doesnít change much from Melbourne to Delhi. Or baseball or basketball players or Formula One drivers for that matter. These are players who have to make significant adjustments to their game; more like a driver shifting from concrete to gravel. You donít do it overnight but that cannot be an excuse because Indiaís cricket establishment wanted it that way! I have one other concern ahead of the first Test and that concerns the batting order. Typically, classically, you must play two openers and four middle order players. Numbers 1, 2 and 3 must retain their sanctity as far as possible and 4, 5 and 6 can be more fluid. India, by the looks of it, are choosing to do it differently by moving everyone around to accommodate No 6. There is some merit in the idea of playing the best six batsmen and creating a batting order around it, and in doing so dispelling the comfort factor of batting numbers.
However sportsmen have their oddities and special skills and some players play better at some positions than at others and as far as possible, especially on a big tour, you must change little. Centre forwards donít suddenly become centre halves, full backs donít suddenly move to the right wing.
And so a peculiar problem presents itself. In the interests of the team, should Rahul Dravid play at No 2 or, in the interests of the team, should the worldís most prolific No 3 be retained at No 3? It doesnít end there of course. It means VVS Laxman, so solid in the middle order now, has to be moved up as well. Heís batted there before but a long time ago and in different conditions. On a big day, a person must do what he does best, most instinctively, and that is true of any profession. So ideally, if Yuvraj Singh has to break into the batting order he must either do so by batting better at his position than anyone else, or by taking whatever number is available. If Australia had to replace, say, Phil Jaques, I donít see them picking Brad Hodge at number six, moving Ponting to open the batting and sending Clarke at number three.
For a start they would replace opener with opener or ask Hodge to open the batting. When Justin Langer had to come back to the side, they didnít disturb Ponting from No 3, they asked Langer to open. If you want to pick a junior minister in the cabinet, you donít move the home minister to finance, the finance minister to external affairs so that the junior man can take home!
I thought that was the reason the selectors picked Sehwag; so that he could open the batting. When you pick someone like that it has to have been accompanied by a great deal of thought, there has to be a strategic reason for picking someone who hasnít scored a run. If India wanted a reserve middle order batsman, the selectors could not have looked beyond S Badrinath of Tamil Nadu. So hopefully Sehwag will play in the Test match and everyone will go back to the job they know best.
So how does one become optimistic about this tour? There is quality in this team, there is a great deal of experience and there is the lingering smell of victory in the air. Two bad sessions in South Africa undid a lot of good work but there were series wins in the West Indies, Bangladesh and England. Now Pakistan have been beaten comfortably at home and the atmosphere in the dressing room is cordial. Players are looking up to the captain who has made it clear that the pitch and such factors will not be used as excuses.And even though recent overseas wins have been fashioned by the bowlers, if the batsmen put runs on the board, India will be a different side.