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When India's best bet is 'nobody'

In a sudden turn of events, the Indian cricket team is now paired with superlatives when mentioned in conversations across the country. In our fast-paced world, where we want everything short and sweet, a couple of wins is enough to change the public perception of the team. And why not? India have outplayed, out-bowled, out-batted, and out-witted the Australians; a combination we came across in extreme rare cases over the past year or so.

Ravichandran Ashwin has tormented the batsmen with the flair of a pace bowler, while Cheteshwar Pujara and Virat Kohli have come of age and have produced some sparkling knocks, putting to rest the debate of ‘replacements’ and more importantly, ‘the future’. MS Dhoni too, whose batting in the Test format has constantly been a subject of glaring scrutiny, conjured one of the most powerful knocks in recent memory to lead India to a victory in the first Test.

Conversely, one could say that both matches were a result of a handful of players coming to the fore and taking them over the rope. If it was Dhoni, Kohli, and Ashwin in the first Test, it was Pujara and Murali Vijay in the second, with a dash of Ravindra Jadeja into the mix. Taking into perspective the bigger picture and the future of Indian cricket, Ashwin, Pujara and Kohli have yet to perform in countries away from home, where they will be tested against a destructive South African side later this year.

A stinging issue which poked India’s backsides however, was the opening pair, which failed completely in the first Test, and moderately in the second. And the fact of the matter is, the failure could well have been avoided before the start of the series. The incorrect inclusion of Virender Sehwag, and questionable ones of Murali Vijay (who has, however, won praise) and Shikhar Dhawan, put the spotlight on the national selectors, and the media-shy Wassim Jaffer. Jaffer’s performances in the domestic tournaments over the past five years have been nothing short of extraordinary, and his absence in the national team, which is in dire need of a solid opening pair, is reflective of the poor decisions the selectors so often take.

But on a day when logic has finally overcome its detractors, Virender Sehwag has been dropped after two years of poor performances and lazy antics. Sehwag’s axe is more of a heartbreak for the Aussies than the Indians, as the drop in his performances has reached so low a point, that anybody would be a good replacement for the opener. His absence would probably mean Shikhar Dhawan’s inclusion, or Ajinkya Rahane, but seeing that he’s been picked as a middle order recruit, the Delhi batsman should be all set to make his debut.

However, Dhawan’s stint in the Ranji Trophy this season hasn’t been up to the mark, and his name on the squad sheet is purely on potential rather than performance. Jaffer would have felt hard done by this when the names for the squad were announced before the first Test, but now he’d feel a knife to his heart knowing that after Sehwag’s axe from the team, India have chosen to not replace him with any player at all.

Not only does this reflect poorly on Wassim Jaffer, but on the entire batch of openers in the domestic teams. Is this what India has come to? Where they can’t find a name capable enough of filling an opener’s boots after his consistent run of abysmal scores?

The onus is on Shikhar Dhawan, already under pressure of replacing one of the biggest names in Indian test cricket, who is now the lone opener (apart from Vijay) to gift India a solid start. Of course, Rahane’s rank may move up a place or two if Dhawan is to fail, but the Indian selectors have done a poor job of Sehwag’s exclusion.

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