One of the biggest question marks for Virat Kohli and Ravi Shastri, ahead of the all important World Test Championship final, will be the choice of openers. New Zealand have a deadly new-ball pair in Tim Southee and Trent Boult and these two bowlers have enjoyed a lot of success against the Indians, especially in conditions where the ball moves in the air and off the pitch.
While the Rose Bowl in Southampton may not provide conditions like in New Zealand, they would still be helpful for fast bowling. Southee picked up 14 wickets, while Boult accounted for 11 scalps during India’s 0-2 drubbing in New Zealand last year. These two quicks were ably supported by Kyle Jamieson, who picked up 9 wickets himself.
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Hence, India’s openers will have their task cut out. One man who is a certainty to get the nod is Rohit Sharma. The experienced star was India’s standout batsman in the home series against England and he looked in good touch in two Test matches he had played in Australia too.
Rohit has played only one Test in England in the past and it wasn’t an experience he would remember fondly. This though will be his first time opening the innings in English conditions.
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Rohit missed the series in New Zeal and it will be interesting to see how he tackles the swing and seam movement. While Rohit may not be the most technically correct player, he is a gifted batsman no doubt.
His ability to spot the ball early, and timing it to perfection could well see him get success against the Kiwis. He is a batsman who likes the ball coming on to the bat and it could well be his strength against a well-rounded pace attack of the Kiwis.
But the big question is who will partner him at the top. Mayank Agarwal was India’s highest run-getter in the series against New Zealand, where he scored a meagre 102 in 4 innings. But he faced as many as 200 balls in that series as an opener and that is a crucial factor.
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Agarwal lost his spot in the team after two failures against Australia but his technique and style of batting will be well suited for the English conditions. Also the fact that Shubman Gill, his replacement, who impressed in Australia, failed to get runs against England in the home series. His form was poor even in the IPL and the youngster might not be in the best mental shape for such a high pressure encounter.
There is very little data to support the cause of any of the three players, but given the fact that Rohit Sharma is a certainty, Agarwal could well be the other choice as his style of play is the exact opposite of Rohit. While Agarwal is known for his dour and disciplined approach at the top, Gill likes to play his shots, which is quite similar to Rohit’s modus operandi.
Whoever gets the nod eventually, the duo would have its job cut out against New Zealand’s world class seam bowlers.