Ganguly went on to give the example of how he sacrificed his number 3 spot and sent Mahendra Singh Dhoni up the order against Pakistan in Visakhapatnam on April 5, 2005. The wicket-keeper batsman smashed 148 and the legend of Dhoni was born.
Having been a part of an immensely successful opening partnership with Sachin Tendulkar in ODIs, Ganguly is also credited for sacrificing his spot for Virender Sehwag. That Sehwag went on to become a marauding opener in both Tests and ODI cricket was vindication of that team management decision.
Teams gradually began realising that the best batsman/batsmen in the team need to get as much time in the middle as possible and that opening combinations should be decided accordingly.
It all started from the 1992 World Cup that was held in Australia. England’s Ian Botham and New Zealand’s Mark Greatbatch began opening the innings for their respective countries and smashed the ball from the word go to make full use of the fielding restrictions.
Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana revolutionised the art of attacking opening in the 1996 World Cup with their audacious hitting and Sri Lanka stunned the world to win the title.
With time, the laws of the game tilted more in favour of the batsmen, the willows grew broader and thicker and swashbuckling batsmen were being sent up the order to hit out from the very first ball in limited overs cricket.
So when Indian captain Virat Kohli decided to open the batting with his deputy Rohit Sharma in the deciding fifth T20I against England on Saturday, it became a big talking point.
India’s two best stroke-makers batting in tandem, feeding off each other, enjoying each other’s big hits. One a superb pull shot player and six hitter, who once he gets his eye in can deflate the best of bowling attacks and the other who can caress the ball and find gaps almost at will and brings out the big shots once he has spent some time at the crease and specialises in anchoring run chases. Both modern day batting greats.
It was a sight to behold and at the receiving end were England’s bowlers who were smashed all round the park as India got off to a flourishing start in the decider with a 94-run opening start.
The move of Kohli pushing himself up the order was seen as a tactical one as it allowed India to play an extra bowler. After the match the captain revealed that he intended to open the innings with Rohit till the T20 World Cup now that India have a strong middle order and that he plans to open the innings for RCB in the IPL as well.
The advent of hitters like Suryakumar Yadav and Ishan Kishan, followed by immensely talented players like Sheyas Iyer, Rishabh Pant and Hrdik Pandya throughout the T20I series against England played a big part in influencing Kohli’s decision.
But the decision also puts a question mark on the likes of Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul. Interestingly, Rahul was tagged by Kohli himself as India’s best opener to partner Rohit at the top. But Rahul’s string of failures in the T20I series against England forced Kohli to promote himself up the order. Dropping Rahul and pushing himself up the order also allowed Virat to play an extra medium pacer in T Natarajan.
TimesofIndia.com ran a poll asking – Is the Rohit Sharma-Virat Kohli pair India’s overall best pick for an opening combination in T20Is?
Not surprisingly, the overwhelming majority went to the ‘Yes’ option.
3397 votes were polled in the affirmative as the fans wanted Kohli and Rohit to keep opening the innings for India in T20Is.
1187 votes were polled against the decision.
Before Saturday, Kohli and Rohit had opened the India innings together only once and that was in an ODI. It was against New Zealand in Hamilton on January 28, 2014. Kohli was dismissed for 2, Rohit had scored 79 and the MS Dhoni-led India had lost the match by 7 wickets.
Before the deciding T20I vs England, Kohli had opened the innings for India seven times with the best score of 70 against New Zealand at Chennai in September 2012. But his unbeaten 80 in the 5th T20I – a knock in which he stayed at the crease from first ball to last took his batting to another level.
No wonder then that Virat has decided to open for RCB in the upcoming IPL as well in the build-up to the T20 World Cup.
(ALL PICS CREDIT: GETTY IMAGES)