Why this confusion over the opening slots?

AFTER three Tests in the Caribbean, the scoreline stands at 1-1. Both the sides have had their moments, but the bottom line is this - this is a contest between two mediocre, evenly matched teams.

The Indians have worked in fits and starts, rather than as a well knit unit. The win in Port of Spain was the result of positive cricket, but in Barbados, all the good work was undone due to some shockingly poor approach. Perhaps, a sense of complacency crept in as well.

The confusion over the opening slots has hardly done the side's cause any good. Shiv Sundar Das has walked out with three partners in the first three Tests.

First we had Deep Dasgupta, then Sanjay Bangar and Wasim Jaffer. All the uncertainty has rubbed off on Das's batting as well, and the poor lad has struggled for runs.

There has to be a clarity in thinking. Before the team left the Indian shores, the think-tank should have been firm about the composition of the eleven for the first Test.

An eleven that could have been retained for the second Test even in case of a couple of failures, for there was no practice game between the first and the second Tests.

To watch Deep Dasgupta walking out with Das sent the wrong signals. Dasgupta's wicket-keeping has come in for severe criticism in the home series, and the side should have begun with Ajay Ratra straightaway.

The team management's handling of Sanjay Bangar too would surely have shattered the cricketer's confidence. The Railways cricketer made a well-paced hundred in the Nagpur Test against the Zimbabweans at the late middle-order slot.

In the Caribbean, when the team-management decided to include Ratra for the Port of Spain Test, following Dasgupta's forgettable display behind the stumps at Georgetown, Bangar was asked to open.

Bangar is a regular opener for Railways and the move to promote him was not wrong at the outset. Yet, having given the all-rounder a new role in the Indian side, the team-management should have persisted with him despite Bangar's lack of success in the second Test.

This has been a major failing with Indian cricket. Dumping someone without giving him a fair trial. Bangar is the latest casualty. A team like Australia would never do this. Once they decide to give a cricketer a run, they ensure that he receives a fair amount of opportunities.

Now we come to Jaffer, who should have figured in the eleven from the first Test. It is incomprehensible why Jaffer was not fielded in the eleven in the Guyana tour game, that automatically ruled him out of the first two Tests.

Having picked someone as a specialist opener, it is only fair that he should be given his due. Jaffer's second innings knock in Bridgetown, where his sound back-foot strokeplay stood out, marked him out as an opener with a future. Yet, why was he made to cool his heels in the first two Tests?

The Indian debacle on the first day at Port of Spain revealed a distinct lack of character in the line-up. There was some assistance for the pacemen in the first couple of hours and the Indian batting came apart like a pack of cards.

Pace bowling has to be countered with positive strokeplay. And quality Indian batsmen like Mohinder Amarnath and Gundappa Visvanath made sure that they played their shots against the quicker bowlers. Not only did they survive, they made runs.

We also had a cricketer of technical purity like Sunil Gavaskar, whose impeccable defence and sound shot selection would drive the bowlers to despair.

In the third Test, apart from Jaffer and Ganguly, who battled it out, the Indians were strangely defensive, allowing the West Indians pacemen to dictate terms. Ganguly's men will have to be positive in their approach and attitude.

Among the team-managements major decision's was going in with three pacemen from the second Test onwards, and though there was a feeling that perhaps senior bowler Anil Kumble deserved another chance, the win at Port of Spain justified the tactics.

Aashish Nehra, who replaced Kumble, provided the vital breakthroughs with his left-arm over-the-wicket bowling, and has been impressive in spells. Javagal Srinath, the leader of the pace pack, has operated with a lot of common sense, though he has not always been lucky.

On wickets abroad that have an element of pace and bounce, playing three pacemen is the right way to go about things. However, it would be of a huge help, if one of them were to be an all-rounder.

Similarly, the West Indians got the balance of their attack right when they unleashed four pacemen at the Indians. The injury to leg-spinner Narendra Nagamooto may have forced the change in the composition of the attack, but the four-man pace attack represents a greater threat.

The four-man West Indian pace attack has worked in unison, and there is always the option of skipper Carl Hooper's off-spin, just in case, the Caribbeans needed a few overs of spin.

The selection of left-arm paceman Pedro Collins has worked for the West Indians too; he provided the attack with a dash of variety and got the big fish, Sachin Tendulkar in the first innings in Bridgetown.

Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and V.V.S. Laxman have made runs, but the most significant gain has been the return to form of Ganguly who needed to get ticking desperately. He had his share of problems against the short ball from the quicks in the first Test, but, to his credit, appears to have sorted them out.

The captain also showed a willingness to fight it out. Laxman made a welcome return to form too, however, his lack of feet movement landed him in trouble in Barbados.

For the West Indies, Shivnarine Chanderpaul and Carl Hooper have been outstanding with the bat, and though, the latter appeared to be struggling in certain phases, he has also displayed a willingness to make the bowlers earn his wicket, a quality not always evident in him earlier. Chanderpaul, a clever customer, has played to his strengths.

The last two Tests will determine whether the Indians get the bouquets or the brickbats. One hopes, they succeed. In case they fail to deliver, certain tough measures will have to be taken.

There has to be accountability in the side. Good performances have to rewarded and the bad ones punished. But then, accountability is a forgotten term in Indian cricket.

The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) President Jagmohan Dalmiya often dwell on this topic, but the time has come for the Board to take some firm steps. The countdown to the World Cup has already begun and it's time for action.