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Rahul out of form, Shaw out of favour — can Rohit be auditioned as an opener?

Prithvi Shaw with team mates during nets
Prithvi Shaw during nets
©Action Images via Reuters/Paul Childs
 

With Prithvi Shaw banned retrospectively for a year upon failing a dope test, KL Rahul struggling with his technique, Hanuma Vihari's game more suited to the middle-order and Rohit Sharma in the form of his life, the stage looks set for the Hitman to make the Test opener's slot his own.


Almost every cricketing expert, not least Nasser Hussain and Kevin Pietersen, were amazed at why Rohit Sharma hadn't come of age in Test cricket till now after he slammed five centuries in the World Cup. Many pundits also noted that Rohit had tightened his technique and was now playing closer to his body, which will help him conquer his past demons in Test cricket and should be given another go in the longest format.

The selectors and the team management obliged to the popular opinion and gave Rohit Sharma a nod for the two-match Test series against West Indies.

 Best bet among available options

Mayank Agarwal is certain to open the innings for India in Tests, but Prithvi Shaw, having not fully recovered from an injury and then banned for failing a dope test, could not make it to the Test squad.

That leaves India with two more conventional options. The first is KL Rahul who has failed repeatedly in recent times and had horrid tours of South Africa, England and Australia, so much so that he had to be dropped mid-series in Australia and the team had to make do with a stopgap opener in Hanuma Vihari.

Rahul made a few valuable contributions in the World Cup but that was in the white-ball format. Even there, his technique looked questionable as he was tentative with his feet movement and was literally opening up on deliveries bowled in the channel. In fact, his dismissals against England in the group stage and against New Zealand in the semi-finals were off undecisive shots, not knowing whether to leave or to poke.

The second option, Hanuma Vihari is not a natural opener and has honed skills suited to the middle-order. For almost his entire career, he had batted in the middle-order for his Ranji Trophy teams Andhra Pradesh and Hyderabad. When Vihari was promoted up the order as a rearguard move against Australia, he seemed more of a blocker and less of a game-changer.

This leaves India with the option of trying Rohit Sharma to open the innings. The overhead conditions and dry pitches in West Indies will not be conducive to swing and seam, hence Sharma can be eased into the opening slot. Also, he will be primed after the T20Is and the ODIs and will be well placed to extend his limited-overs exploits.

Yet to get a consistent run in Tests

To be fair to him, Rohit has got most of his opportunities on tough assignments such as in South Africa and England, where almost every Indian batsman has struggled bar Virat Kohli and Cheteshwar Pujara. Unfortunately, his Australia series was cut short due to an untimely injury after Rohit compiled a well-controlled half-century.

Remember, Rohit started as a middle-order player in the ODIs as well but it was only after being promoted to open the batting in the 2013 Champions Trophy that he has grown out of sight and has become one of the most successful limited-overs players of all time.  Despite having all the talent in the world, it took him a long time to translate that into performances of substance in ODIs. But when he finally clicked, he is more than making up for it. Rohit has a staggering average of close to 60 since the 2013 Champions Trophy, as opposed to an ODI average of 30.43 before that.

 Among others, even one of India's most successful Test opening batsman Virender Sehwag has advocated for Rohit to open the innings. In fact, Rohit has himself shown willingness for the role.

"Look, I have never been offered (to open the innings in Tests) yet but I am open to anything as in whatever the team management wants. I never thought I will be an opener in ODIs when I started playing or when I was playing for India. But it happened along the way, so I (want to) keep my options open. No option is shut for me, so if the opportunity comes, I will take it," Rohit had said in August last year.   

With Team India looking for long-haul options for a Test opener and Rohit Sharma still trying to find his feet in the longest format, it is only reasonable for the team management to give the 32-year-old a go. You never know, this might just be what the Hitman requires for his Test career to turn the corner.  

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