Whenever one speaks about opening the batting in test cricket for India, Sunil Gavaskar is the first name that props up. Since the great Sunny G retired in late 1987, India struggled to find a regular opening pair. The likes of Sidhu, Mongia, Laxman, Dravid, Das and Ramesh all tried their best. It was only after Sehwag was promoted up the order that things changed for the better. The dynamic opener from Delhi partnered with Wasim Jaffer and Gautam Gambhir. It was the left and right pair from Delhi that changed the course of MS Dhoni’s tenure as skipper in early part of his captaincy career. Since the drop and eventual retirement of the duo India faced a scarcity of openers, but things are changing.
Emergence and steady shadow of Rohit Sharma –
The tour of West Indies in 2019 post the ICC world cup, saw Rahul continue his bad form with the bat in red ball cricket. India needed a new partner for Mayank Agarwal. Rohit Sharma till the time he had opened the innings had already played 27 tests.
Leave aside the whole of 2020 where Rohit did not play a single test match. In just two calendar years. He has nearly scored as many runs he did while batting in the middle order and scored a century more. His century at Oval in the 4th test and his rear-guard act in the 2nd test at Lord’s were his highlights. At 34, Rohit Sharma might not play test cricket for more than 3-4 years, but he has shown the application needed to make it at the top of the order.
Terrific Karnataka Duo –
After years of being unsure about his off-stump, KL Rahul is finally coming off age. Since that tour of the Caribbean he finally got to play test cricket once again this year during the tour of England. The injuries to Gill and Agarwal gave him the chance to show his new attitude. Rahul not only took his chance but he took the ball and ran with it. He was sure of his off-stump and rarely flashed at the away going delivery. He seems more poised and more assured. His best friend and state-mate Mayank Agarwal too is going through a similar story. After being left out for the SCG test and whole of the England series at home. He finally got his chance to show his might during the home series against World Test Champs New Zealand. After a dismal 1st test, he was the difference maker during the 2nd test at Mumbai. Agarwal was the only one who looked assured against Ajaz Patel who took 10 wickets in a single innings. His 60 in the 1st innings at Centurion showed a new found maturity that he has cultivated.
Dravid’s golden boys waiting in the wings –
Rahul Dravid took over the reins of the Indian team as the coach from Ravi Shastri. The former Indian number 3 who had a terrific career as the coach of the under-19 will have his eye on his two former wards. Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill who have played test cricket as the openers. The two have spoken glowingly about Rahul Dravid under whom they won the Under-19 World Cup in 2018. Shaw has fallen off the radar due to his suspect technique. Gill on the other hand has had a tough time with injuries which has plagued him so far. The duo will be looking for a chance to come back into the team should the three seniors – Sharma, Rahul and Agarwal falter at some point.
The firepower in the reserves –
31 year old Priyank Panchal is in South Africa as part of the Indian team after he replaced an injured Rohit Sharma. A veteran of 100 Ranji Trophy games is known to bat big and long. Bengal’s Abhimanyu Eeswaran too has been in and around the selector’s radar. He was part of the Indian team during the tour of England. He also scored a century for India A during the tour of South Africa before the senior team landed in the rainbow nation.
Youngsters waiting in the wings -
Then there is Devdutt Padikkal, the lanky 21 year old lad from Karnataka who is waiting in the wings. The elegant left hander can score at quick pace as well as drop anchor and see off the new ball. With 930 runs from 16 Ranji games at an average of 33.2 might not paint the right picture. Those who have seen him bat though can vouch for his talent. Finally one also has to look at Ruturaj Gaikwad, the 24 year old from Maharashtra. Gaikwad has played 21 First Class games and scored 1349 runs with an average just under 39, with 4 centuries and 6 fifties.
Post the sacking of Vijay and Dhawan, India have finally found a talent pool who can bat at the top of the order. Each of the player has his own personality and the future of Indian opening in test cricket is in safe hands.