In Test Cricket, opening the innings is the most difficult job for the batsman. It is equivalent to being the fortification against the enemy storming against you, it is always the first front of attack for the opposing team. The openers always face the worst of batting conditions and bowling attacks at their freshest. That is why an opener is no less than a soldier for the team.
India has been blessed to have two of the greatest opening batsmen in the history of Test cricket. One was ice & other was fire. I’m of course speaking about the steely, resolute, technically correct Sunil Gavaskar & flashy, flamboyant, aggression personified Virender Sehwag.
When playing in foreign conditions, the opening is as crucial as it gets. Seeing off the new ball and making the middle order comfortable at the crease can very well influence the result. So let’s have a look at how Indian opening pairs have fared outside Asian conditions in past years.
These are the top-6 pairs that have opened for India outside Asia for more than at least 6 innings.
The Delhi duo of Sehwag & Gambhir is often considered as the greatest for India. Their home record is impeccable and the best for the nation, 3708 runs at an average of 59 in 65 innings. Next best is not even half of that.
But while Sehwag-Gambhir pair has 10 century opening partnerships in Asia, they have only one outside the continent. Their greatest failures came in 2011 where India was humiliated first in England and then in Australia. They average 15.26 in the 2011-12 Australian tour in 8 innings that they batted together.
Jaffer & Sehwag had a brilliant time in West Indies where they put up 72, 159, 61 & 109 in consecutive innings. However, their failures in South Africa brought the pair back on the floor.
Gavaskar & Mankad opened for India in the 1971 West Indies Series which was the dazzling debut of the original little master. Gavaskar shined with 774 runs in the series & Mankad gave him an able support. Mankad failed miserably in England though & thus was discarded by the team soon enough.
Srikkanth, the Sehwag-like opener of that era enjoyed batting at the top with Gavaskar against an Australian attack that was going through a transition and an English attack that was not quite at its strongest. They gave a good start to the team on seven out of ten instances.
Gritty Aakash Chopra and fiery Sehwag played all eight away opening innings in Australia in the 2003-04 series which India drew 1-1. The result was very much the function of strong opening at the top. Although it came against an attack without McGrath & Warne, it enabled India to have it’s best ever result in Australia.
The best away opening pair for India is Chetan Chauhan & Sunil Gavaskar in my opinion. More often than not, in fact, 11 out of 25 times they gave India a solid foundation. These performances have not come in only one country but these have come in Australia, England & New Zealand. Yes, Australia was Packer-stripped but it still was not so easy for India to stand strong there.
The current Indian pair of Dhawan-Vijay has an average of 24.95 with highest ever partnership being only 56. To improve the performances in away conditions, India will have to find its “Gavaskar-Chauhan” again.