Among the various reasons that Chennai Super Kings have challenged for the title year after year, winning it twice, is that they have almost always relied on specialist openers and not the makeshift option teams usually resort to so as to squeeze in the extra batsman or bowler.
Mumbai is learning the truism the hard way, as their recent pair of Sachin Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting, a combination which has prompted the portmanteau ‘Pondulkar’, is turning out to be a liability. Though with mind-boggling numbers between them – 61345 international runs – the dream pair has come a cropper in this IPL so far. Apart from the 52 they eked out in the opener, they have managed only 3 and 0.
Hence, many former cricketers reckon their pairing could prove detrimental to Mumbai’s progress, especially in a format like T20. “In case teams have a weak opening pair and a few wickets fall in the Powerplay, then there is immense pressure on the middle order. And in T20 the time is so short, there is no chance of a comeback,” opined former Indian skipper K Srikkanth.
They believe Tendulkar should open with a younger player such as Rohit Sharma or Dinesh Karthik. Ponting can come two drop or even lower. Ideally, one of the openers should be an aggressor while the other adopts an anchor role. The formula worked brilliantly in CSK’s back-to-back title-winning spree (2010 and 2011), when they opened with Murali Vijay and Matthew Hayden.
Reflecting on his own successful partnership with Sunil Gavaskar, Srikkanth feels they would have been prolific on the T20 circuit as well. “While Gavaskar would play anchor, I would have a go at the bowlers. He always gave me the freedom to play my shots. He encouraged me to play without any inhibition. He would rotate the strike and I would try and unsettle the bowlers,’’ added Srikkanth.
Srikkanth insisted that openers in T20 should not only score runs quickly but also should try and “unsettle” the bowlers so that the opponent captain’s plans go haywire. He concluded that it would be wise for teams to have a good mixture of experience and youth in their choice of openers.