On evidence of the last few months, Yuvraj is probably India’s most effective batsman, and if we leave reputation and past baggage out of the picture, on sheer potential, his name should be penciled in first after the captain’s in the team. That makes things tricky when Tendulkar returns to the team. It is impossible to accommodate Dravid, Tendulkar, Ganguly, Laxman, Yuvraj – all in the middle order (especially with Dhoni and maybe Pathan to follow).
The most obvious option (that has already begun making rounds) is that Dravid should be pushed up to open with Wasim Jaffer, with Laxman at no. 3. As usual, let Dravid bear the brunt of having the ability to face the new ball. As an opener, Laxman averages 29 in 25 innings, and Yuvraj averages 15 in 2 innings. Ganguly, with his weakness against the short ball, is not a candidate.
Dravid can cope. Well, he averages 34 in 13 innings in that position, whereas his average at no. 3 is 58 in 144 innings.
The obvious choice for no. 3 then becomes VVS Laxman, who averages 48 in 27 innings in that position. (At no. 5, he averages 45 in 24 innings, and at no. 6, his average is 48 in 52 innings.) However, Laxman’s away average at no. 3 drops to 34. He has publicly, and very emphatically stated that he does not like opening at all. And given his current form and state in the team, where he is playing for his place most of the time, is he in the right frame of mind to shoulder that crucial responsibility?
The most important factor to remember is that Dravid has repeatedly indicated that he prefers the no. 3 position to an opening slot, so clearly he would be doing something he is not entirely comfortable with. Given that he is India’s most important batsman overseas, and is not exactly in the best of form, it does not at all seem like a wise move for the team, as there would be two batsmen – Dravid, and whoever takes his place at the equally important no.3 position - adjusting to accommodate Yuvraj’s inclusion.
Meanwhile, what about the only other cricketer in this team, who is equipped with the technical wherewithal to open for India – Sachin Tendulkar? It is ridiculous enough that he has opened just once in test cricket (in 2000 vs NZ in Ahmedabad) scoring 15. His ODI opening average is 48 with a stunning 37 hundreds. Why has India’s most talented batsman never ever taken on the challenge of adopting the most difficult batting position?
When you consider India’s batting line-up, it is clear that the team can actually do without Tendulkar in the middle-order. They need his talent up the order, and leave the only other player capable of adjusting as an opener, Dravid, at the crucial no. 3 position, from where he has become India’s most valuable batsman bar none.
India has the opportunity to make history in Australia this time around – they have just the right team for it, if this opening slot can be filled with a reliable incumbent. And there is no-one more suitable than Tendulkar here.
But who will bell the cat? Or more pertinently – who will tackle the holy cow?
With the selection of the Indian test team for Australia, things are now even more complex. Sehwag's surprise inclusion has complicated things even more. It is actually a very good decision, rewarding an outstanding talent with the benefit of doubt only 'legends' get, which Sehwag never was (surprising, given his magnificent past test performances). Yes, he is out of form, yes, he has shown an obstinate lack of mental adjustability lately (repeatedly getting out to bad shots) but it is still worth this punt on a tour as difficult as Australia, with the prize being greater than anything in contemporary cricket.
A series victory in Australia would be greater than any world cup win, and easily India's greatest cricketing achievement ever. Sehwag's stand-and-deliver style will actually work better on Australian pitches better than at home, and given that it could be his last chance to make amends, it will be interesting to see how he responds.
Still, it is unlikely he will play in the first two tests (unless he is in awesome form in the tour games; in which case the casualty could be Yuvraj) and that means Dravid will probably be asked to open. The ironic situation then is – if Dravid fails in the first two tests, it could be his place that would be under threat. And India's most important overseas batsman wouldn't even have batted at the position he is most comfortable with, in his team's most important tour.
Embarrassment of riches can sometimes be a very bad thing. Especially in a holy cow culture.