Opening the batting in Test cricket is akin to being on the front line during a war. The vagaries of the red cherry in helpful conditions can make even the most technically sound and equipped batsman come across as an oaf. The challenge has risen a fair amount in modern day cricket with players having to play three different formats.
Test cricket statistically is the least played format and for the opening batsmen to mould their game to suit it remains a big worry. Some are naturally disposed to make this adjustment while the others have to work harder.
This is primarily the reason why Team India has struggled to find a stable opening pair in whites, since Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir left the scene. While many have shone in conditions back home, almost no one has managed to hold on to their place while playing in the tough conditions of the SENA (South Africa, England, New Zealand, Australia) countries.
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The latest to bite the dust is Mayank Agarwal, who has been benched for the crucial third Test match in Sydney. Agarwal made his Test debut against Australia in 2018 and showed great technical acumen and grit to cement his place in the side.
But he has been all at sea against the pace and swing of Mitchell Starc this time and that has cost him his place in the playing XI. India’s decision to go in with Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill makes it their third opening combination in as many matches, with Prithvi Shaw failing miserably in the first Test.
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In 2020 India played a total of four Test matches, and in those 8 innings their opening partnership managed to put just 104 runs on the board at an average of 13 with no half-century stands to their credit. This is the worst performance by the opening stand of any team in Test cricket in 2020.
Not just 2020, the performance of the opening combination in away Tests has been dismal for a while now. This has been a big reason why India has not managed to win Test series away from the sub-continent despite having one of their best bowling units ever.
From the Test series in South Africa at the beginning of 2018 onwards, the opening pair has not managed to average above 25 in any of the 6 away tours. There has been no century stand, while there have been only four 50-plus stands, out of which three came in the five-match series in England in 2018.
The numbers clearly show how India desperately need an opening pair that manages to spend some time in the middle and thwarts the threat presented by the new ball. The good thing is that both Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill are shot makers and have the ability to get runs on the board quickly.
This will be a huge Test for Rohit, who will be playing his first Test series an opener away from home. He reignited his red ball career in 2019 as he scored heavily in Indian conditions while opening the batting. The team management would hope he continues in the same vein alongside Gill, who looked impressive on debut at Melbourne.