A partner for Wasim Jaffer

K. R. DEEPAK

The chemistry between Wasim Jaffer and Dinesh Karthik is good. The difference in their heights forces the bowlers to alter lengths. The two have constructed major Test partnerships in South Africa and England. They are a pair with immense possibilities, writes S. Dinakar.

This was picture perfect at Eden Gardens. Wasim Jaffer stood tall and whipped the ball through square-leg. There was poise, balance, timing and placement.

Now there is a flow to Jaffer’s batting that comes with confidence. He is galloping on focus and ability. And he is growing in belief and stature.

Jaffer was the Lord of the Eden with his second Test double hundred. He is now building monuments.

The right-handed Jaffer has the lazy elegance of a left-hander. He picks the length early and gets into position quickly. The extra split second he creates for himself enhances the beauty of his stroke play. He appears to have the time to play his shots.

All the aspects of his batsmanship are threaded. One doesn’t exist without the other. Jaffer, indeed, is good to watch. He is an opener with footwork; he comprehends the sweet portion of his willow and harnesses the pace of the ball. He is wristy and can find the gaps.

Actually, being wristy does not work in favour of a conventional opener, at least in the early part of an innings. An opener has to play straight, preferably in the ‘V’, and those with supple wrists tend to be squarer, picking deliveries from off-stump to the on-side.

In fact, Jaffer has battled hard against his natural instincts during his journey as opener. Now, at least against the new ball, he plays straight, driving with a high elbow and a still head. His dexterous wrists come into play later in the innings.

Legendary opener Sunil Gavaskar lamented the other day that modern openers were not ‘leaving’ the ball outside the off-stump as much as they should. Now, ‘leaving’ the delivery is an art that originates from a balanced stance. If the batsman’s bodyweight is properly distributed at the point of delivery, his judgment in the corridor is bound to be sound.

Jaffer has worked on his stance. While he was always comfortable playing off his back-foot, his front-foot play has improved. The right-hander is leaning into his drives. He also appears to have broken away from the intriguing stop-start-stop mode his career had drifted into. Previously, he would lose momentum after a big knock. Now, he is retaining his form and sustaining his run. He has taken a few knocks at the international level, accumulated runs in domestic cricket and fought his way back.

Temperament is not a commodity he lacks. Growing up in the combative Mumbai environment, he has impressive powers of concentration, can see off spells and bat through sessions.

A tendency to jab, off his back-foot, at deliveries rising and leaving him proved to be Jaffer’s drawback in the past. He subsequently tightened this facet of his game. His technique will be under scrutiny during the forthcoming Australian tour.

India’s opening combination of Virender Sehwag and Aakash Chopra laid the platform for the side’s impressive batting performance down under in 2003. Sehwag fired, Chopra held firm. Then, the middle-order blossomed.

Gautam Gambhir is a good option for the opening slot.-RITU RAJ KONWAR

Gautam Gambhir

India’s middle-order, one of stroke-makers, has invariably roared when the side had received a start, when the threat from the new ball had been seen off. Sehwag and Chopra accomplished this against an Aussie attack sans Glenn McGrath.

Jaffer would be required to play more horizontal bat shots on the Aussie pitches. On seaming tracks with bounce, he would need to utilise the scoring opportunities when the delivery is lacking in length or when he is provided the width.

As he displayed at Eden Gardens, Jaffer is an effective puller. A top-order batsman has to employ this shot judiciously against an aggressive bunch of pacemen.

Jaffer deserves a regular opening partner. Despite form deserting him in the fist half of the on-going Test series against Pakistan, Dinesh Karthik should be Jaffer’s partner in Australia.

The need to develop openers has not always been at the forefront of India’s strategy in the post-Gavaskar era. That the openers have been considered a disposable commodity and make-shift men has damaged India’s long-term prospects. This should not be the case.

The chemistry between Jaffer and Karthik is good. The difference in their heights forces the bowlers to alter lengths. Like Jaffer, but in a more extroverted fashion, Karthik relishes the sniff of a fight.

Jaffer and Karthik have constructed major Test partnerships in South Africa and England, countering seam movement, bounce and swing with contrasting methods. This is a pair with immense possibilities.

Virender Sehwag mastered the Aussie attack when India toured down under last time.-AP

It is when the pacemen are fresh and hungry, when the pitch offers deviation and bounce, when batting is a question of survival that the openers emerge from the background. These men are specialists, have a mind-set of their own.

Before charting out a strategy to include Yuvraj Singh in the playing XI, the selectors and the team-management — on tours the latter should have the final say — should not compromise on the opening combination.

The move to open the innings with Yuvraj, and before him V.V.S. Laxman, actually set the clock back apart from negatively impacting the careers of the two batsmen. Opening the innings is not a job that should be thrust on someone.

Rahul Dravid’s decision to open on the tour of Pakistan in 2006 was a courageous move by the skipper who wanted to create a place for Sourav Ganguly. Looking back, this was not a clever ploy; the team matters more than the individuals.

Sadly, Jaffer and Gautam Gambhir, the openers picked for the tour, watched the action from the dressing room. The move sent wrong signals.

Subsequently, Jaffer has flowered in Tests while Gambhir, a hit in the ODIs and Twenty20, has tightened his game at the first class level. His left-handed ways provide an option to the selectors.

Sehwag is still around and the Aussies would remember the damage he did earlier. However, his career has reached a phase, at least at the Test level, where he would be better suited to the side in the middle-order. He could also chip in with his off-spin.

Jaffer and Karthik should walk out together in the Boxing Day Test. Jaffer has a calmness about him and Karthik is a chirpy little character. Both have the fight in them.

If the early inroads are prevented, the contest will truly be on.