Technique vs temperament: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and India’s Test opening concerns

Technique vs temperament: Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and India’s Test opening concerns

India‘s search for two reliable Test openers continues, followed the 2-0 series win over West Indies in the Caribbean recently.

Prithvi Shaw’s absence on account of a doping violation saw KL Rahul retained in India’s Test squad, but he averaged 25.25 in four innings with a best score of 44. Rahul’s opening partner Mayank Agarwal fared poorly too, with an average of 20 from as many innings and one fifty (he made 55 in India’s first innings at Sabina Park).

Former India captain Sourav Ganguly believes that Rohit Sharma can translate his strong white-ball form into Test cricket, if given the chance as opener in place of the struggling Rahul. Gautam Gambhir, India’s third most successful Test opener, feels that Rohit will have to wait for his chances in Tests.

Anil Kumble, India’s greatest match-winner with the ball in Tests, is wary of pushing Rohit into the opener’s role in red-ball cricket.

On the sidelines, the likes of domestic openers Abhimanyu Easwaran and Priyank Panchal are knocking on the selectors’ doors for a chance in Tests.

So come India’s next Test series, which starts October 2 against South Africa at home, who will the chosen openers be?

Rahul’s problems in the West Indies were a continuation of his red-ball slump from 2018. Scores of 44, 38, 13 and 6 mean that of Rahul’s 60 innings in Test cricket, 21 have been between 10 and 49.

“KL Rahul has flattered to deceive and that creates an opening at the top,” Ganguly said last week. “I had suggested earlier about trying Rohit Sharma as an opener in Test cricket and I still believe that he needs to be given an opportunity because he is too good a player to be left out in the cold. After a fantastic World Cup, I believe he will be itching to grab the opportunity to open in Tests.”

In the first Test at Antigua, Agarwal’s uncertain footwork saw him caught behind to Kemar Roach and lbw to Roston Chase. In the second Test, he made 55 until an ambitious cut shot against Jason Holder saw him caught at first slip. In the second innings, Agarwal was beaten for pace by Roach and trapped lbw.

Rahul’s and Agarwal’s problems in the West Indies highlighted a trend of Test openers struggling when the conditions are tough and the new-ball bowlers are accurate. And with Rahul, it appears that he has not learned from the mistakes made last year in England and Australia.

In five Tests in England, Rahul was bowled five times. The other five dismissals were lbw thrice, caught in the cordon twice. Subtract that 149 he made in the dead rubber at The Oval, and Rahul had scores of 4, 13, 8, 0, 23, 26, 36, 19 and 37. In Australia, Rahul batted five times and scored 57 runs, of which 44 came in one innings. Around that knock which promised so much more, he made  2, 2, 0 and 9.

The failures of Rahul and Agarwal in the West Indies mirrored that of some openers during the ongoing Ashes series. England’s white-ball specialist Jason Roy made 10, 28, 0, 2, 9 and 8 in the first three Tests while opening. Handed a debut in Tests after a strong World Cup, the Surrey batsman has failed in his new role and was pushed down into the middle order for the fourth Ashes Test at Old Trafford, where he made 22 and 31 but had his technique exposed by pace once again.