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Sight Screen

Monday, January 02, 2006

Middle order questions

S Rajesh on Cricinfo, over the weekend, had done this stat piece that among other things looks at 2005 as the year the middle order flowered. A change, this, from two years ago when Ricky Ponting and Rahul Dravid led the charge of the number threes.Here's the interesting bit:
Pakistan's two middle-order giants, Inzamam-ul-Haq (335, 83.75) and Yousuf Youhana (536, 67.00) were the other major contributors. Michael Hussey started late, but he did his bit to bolster the No.5 stats, scoring 339 runs at 113, while Inzamam-ul-Haq - 664 runs at 110.66 - didn't do badly either.

Pakistan's two men in the middle are not only in form, but have been crucial to the fortunes of the team. Could be coincidence, but that position is precisely where India is a bit iffy just now. If you reckon Sehwag bats one, either one of Gambhir/Jaffar/Yuvraj bats two, and Dravid three -- then Sachin, who is yet to strike a consistently authoritative vein following his comeback from injury, and VVS Laxman, who has had a bit of a lengthy layoff (outside, of course, of the non-demanding Sri Lanka series) will bat in those crucial positions, with Sourav likely coming in just behind them.
Rajesh also points out that in the year gone by, numbers 7 on down have been doing well -- and here India has interesting options, with Mahendra Singh Dhoni in at 7, followed by Irfan Pathan at 8. Zaheer will likely bat nine, Harbhajan at ten, and Kumble, or the third seamer, at 11 (though if that third seamer is Agarkar, you could see him come up ahead of Bajji).
It's interesting -- all available punditry ahead of the Indo-Pak series suggests that the result could hinge on how the Indian batting lineup goes against the Pak bowling lineup. On paper, everyone including Inzy and his uncle have been giving the palm to India -- but when you examine that lineup a bit more closely, you find one opener struggling for form, the identity of another opener uncertain, number four yet to hit a rich, consistent vein of form, number five not full to the gills with match practise, and number six under pressure and fighting for his place in the side.
That sole warm up game ahead of the first Test is likely more crucial than we at first imagined.


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