Throughout India’s long and glorious cricketing history, the fans have been fortunate enough to witness some of the finest batsmen donning the blue colours of the Indian national cricket team. Co-incidentally some of the best of the lot have been openers such as the G.O.A.T Sachin Tendulkar, the graceful Sunil Gavaskar, and the hard-hitting Virender Sehwag to name a few.
India has never been short of quality openers, well at least until now! Kohli’s men have suddenly found themselves amid an opening predicament. While Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have cemented their places in white-ball cricket, they have failed to do the same when it comes to the elder format of the game.
In the past couple of years, Team India have tried out various batsmen as openers in Test cricket. The likes of Dhawan, Murali Vijay and KL Rahul have been given plenty of opportunities and they have all failed to get the shine off of the new ball and give the team a solid start. With the recent commencement of the ICC World Test Championship, India is desperately crying out for a quality opening batsman in Test cricket.
Openers failing in Test Cricket is a global phenomenon
The annual cricketing years of 2018 and 2019 were second and fourth respectively when it comes to the lowest average opening partnerships in five-day cricket. Thus, openers failing to score big in Test cricket is not a phenomenon that has solely been restricted to India and even other countries’ opening pairs have struggled, and are barely averaging close to 30 runs.
Apart from the Sri Lankan Dimuth Karunaratne and the Kiwis’ Tom Latham with batting averages of 42.55 and 44.04, no other opening batsman has consistently provided good starts to their teams.
There are plenty of reasons behind these failures, arguably the major ones being players potentially playing too much white-ball cricket, and also because of the early prodigious amounts of swing, especially in countries like England and West Indies where the dreaded Duke ball is used.
India’s Lokesh Rahul was recently at the receiving end of these dubious amounts of swing during India’s tour of West Indies and scored a minuscule total of 101 runs in his four innings against the opposition. Rahul did not just struggle in this last tour. Since January 2018, he has scored just 491 runs in 23 innings with a rather dismal batting average of 22.31.
While KL is without any doubt a fantastic cricketer, due to his poor performances, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that Kohli and the selectors are looking elsewhere for a new opener.
And even though he isn’t as experienced when it comes to international Test cricket, there isn’t a man with a better CV to do this job then, The Hitman Rohit Sharma.
Rohit Sharma: Worth the risk!
“He (Rohit) is keen, and all of us in the selection committee are keen. We want to push him, and give him some opportunities up the order and see where does he stand, and then we will take a call”, Chief Selector MSK Prasad had recently told the media about Rohit Sharma potentially opening the innings for India even in Test matches.
With Hanuma Vihari and Ajinkya Rahane seemingly cementing their places in the middle order, Sharma will apparently be asked to do the toughest job of them all, i.e. to face the swinging new ball against South Africa’s Kagiso Rabada and Lungisani Ngidi in the upcoming first Test match from 2nd October.
It is truly quite mind boggling that a player with the resume of Sharma, who arguably has a great claim to being the best white-ball batsman in the world has barely featured in Tests for his country, while has also never opened the innings even once in the game’s longer format.
Till date, the Mumbaikar has played 27 tests for India scoring 1585 runs at an average of 39.62. The numbers certainly aren’t doing him any favours. However, it should be noted that Sharma has not once been played in his strongest position, i.e. as an opener.
Sharma isn’t a complete novice in opening the innings in red ball cricket and has scored 6,562 runs with an average of a whopping 54.23 in first-class matches, while mostly playing as an opener. Even though first-class bowlers aren’t of the same magnitude as international bowlers, Sharma has still to an extent proved his prowess in facing the new ball.
Opening in Test cricket is often considered a job which needs tenacity and patience to take the shine off of the new ball. However, as witnessed by the low batting averages of openers in the past few years, dogged and rather tenacious opening batsmen such as Kraigg Brathwaite and KL Rahul have underwhelmed and it is high time now that a new modus operandi is tried.
Can Rohit Sharma do a Virender Sehwag?
Test Cricket is crying out for a more fearless opener who isn’t afraid to hit the ball hard while also possessing a sound batting technique. Someone in the same mould of a certain man from Delhi named Virender Sehwag, who early in his career was written off by critics to be too aggressive for Test cricket, only to score three mammoth triple centuries and prove his detractors wrong. It needs someone like a Rohit Sharma.
Sharma, just like Sehwag was about 15 years ago, will be like a breath of fresh air to the Test format. He has all the necessary tools to succeed and at 32 years of age with close to 12 years of international experience, he is probably well aware of his strengths and weaknesses and knows what he needs to do to get the job done in five-day matches.
In Test matches, Sharma can play the game at his own pace without worrying about increasing the run rate. He can take his time to settle in while also occasionally play the big hits he is renowned for.
The selectors and captain should show full faith in one of the most technically gifted players of this generation and give him a run of at least 7-8 matches before making a decision on his Test future. While it may seem like a risk right now, a batsman of Sharma’s lofty standards is certainly worth it.
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