In the last 27 years, since 1990, the Indian Test cricket team has had 35 different openers – either long or short-term. During Sachin Tendulkar’s career alone, 33 of them were tried. Recently, Abhinav Mukund was included in the squad for India’s single Test against Bangladesh – he was called back to the team as a reserve opener after a gap of almost six years, having last played on India’s disastrous 2011 tour of England.
There have been the famous and best ones – Virender Sehwag, arguably the greatest since Sunil Gavaskar, then Gautam Gambhir, Murali Vijay, Navjot Singh Sidhu, Ravi Shastri and Manoj Prabhakar. The last three opened and even finished their careers in the 1990s. The makeshift ones – Irfan Pathan, Sanjay Bangar, Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman (yes), Sanjay Manjrekar, Yuvraj Singh, Sameer Dighe, Hemang Badani, MSK Prasad and even Cheteshwar Pujara.
But then, perhaps the most fleeting of Test batsmen – who have flourished for brief periods of time or a few tours – have appeared at the opening position. They’ve been specialists, but haven’t lasted for more than a few years.
Here are five familiar names:
Shiv Sunder Das (2000-2002)
The dainty little right-hander was the less glamorous opener of the two, back when Sadagoppan Ramesh had captured imaginations with his grace and lack of footwork. Das was the more solid one, a perfect foil to the aggressors around him – and was fairly consistent for the first half of his 23-match career. Unfortunately for him, his big scores, only two centuries, both came against Zimbabwe at home. He played well in the legendary Australia series of 2001 with a bunch of fifties, but no centuries. And if openers can’t score big, they’re soon found out. He failed through the West Indies tour in 2002, and was never picked again.
Sadagoppan Ramesh (1999-2001)
The classy left hander was a delight to watch, but ended his 18-Test career with just two Test centuries. He played more ODI matches, but was a specialist Test opener. He made his debut in the three-match series against Pakistan in 1999, scoring three superb fifties, temporarily ending India’s search for an opener after Navjot Singh Sidhu. He wasn’t as successful as Das in the Australia series, but didn’t quite fail totally right till the end of his career. He scored a fifty in his last innings in Sri Lanka, but was never picked again – because that was when the prolific Wasim Jaffer broke through the ranks.
Deep Dasgupta (2001-2002)
The Bengali wicketkeeper-batsman made his debut as an opener in South Africa, in the same series as Virender Sehwag did. He made a brave fifty at Port Elizabeth, and scored a century in his next Test against England at Mohali on a bouncy pitch. You’d think he was the next big thing, but a string of failures after this, and he was dropped after the first Test in the West Indies, during which Jaffer took over. He played only eight Tests. This was back when batsmen were given a long rope at the beginning of India’s golden generation – the middle order.
Aakash Chopra (2003-2004)
Chopra, now a cricket pundit and writer for Cricinfo, was perhaps the most unfortunate of India’s contemporary Test openers. He played 10 matches, out of which six were overseas on tough pitches – four in Australia and two in Pakistan. He didn’t get a single fifty in each of these six Tests, but braved the new ball on moving wickets against the best bowlers in the world. His strike-rate was of more importance, as he shielded a strong middle-order against Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, Shoaib Akhtar, Mohammad Sami and others. He finished his career after a string of six single-digit failures against these two teams, and ended having scored only two fifties and 437 international runs. And many painful blows at forward short leg.
Wasim Jaffer (2000-2008)
The biggest one that got away. He played only 31 Tests in eight years as an opener, but was easily India’s most technically adept opener for overseas conditions – a true rarity. Before he became a domestic legend, he scored five Test centuries for India at the highest level – three of them overseas (South Africa, West Indies and Bangladesh), and two of them double centuries (in West Indies, and in Kolkata against Pakistan). A failed tour to Australia in 2007-08 meant that he was soon dropped, despite being India’s greatest opener since Sidhu. He even figured in India’s winning Test tour of England in 2007.