Opening act an Indian worry

Opening act an Indian worry

Opening act an Indian worry

When K L Rahul got down on his knees, clutching his left shoulder in obvious pain after a failed attempt to hoist Steve O’Keefe in the first innings of the opening Test, the reaction of many followers of Indian cricket may well have been “oh, not again!”

Fortunately, the Karnataka batsman was able to shrug off an apparent dislocation and resume batting in the second innings. Such has been his luck with injuries that Rahul has missed more matches than he has actually played this home season, necessitating the Indian team to either make do with make-shift openers or short-term replacements like Parthiv Patel and Gautam Gambhir.

There also have been occasions when other regular openers Shikhar Dhawan and Murali Vijay have missed out due to injuries. The team management, however, is clear that fitness-permitting, Vijay and Rahul are its first-choice players to open the innings. This clarity of thought is crucial for it allows these two batsmen to bat without the pressure of being put on the chopping block. While individually the two right-handers have done enough to justify their respective places in the side, it’s the lack of big partnerships at the top of the order between them that is a cause for concern.

From the West Indies series last year to the latest Test against Australia, Rahul has scored 625 runs in nine Tests at an average of 48.07 as opposed to his career total of 881 runs at 38.30. During the same period, Vijay has managed 677 runs in 12 Tests at 35.63 which is, in fact, inferior to his career average of almost 40. But he has scored three hundreds and two fifties during this phase, making himself inevitable in the scheme of things.

Their scoring patterns over the last couple of years show that both Rahul and Vijay either go boom or go bust. In 14 Tests since his debut, Rahul has 13 innings of 16 runs or less while in some cases he has got out after reasonably good starts like 24, 28, 32 and 38.

This means more than 80 percent of his career runs has come in six innings. In the same period, Vijay had 17 scores of 20 or less out of 29 innings besides getting out at 29 and 40 on one occasion each. 

A strong middle-order performance in the last four series, extending from the tour of the West Indies, may have papered over lack of good opening stands but it’s when the most of the batting group fails to click, like it happened in Pune, the chinks at the top of the order appear glaring. While no one expects Rahul and Vijay to produce a 100 or even a 50-run partnership every time they go out to open, the success rate certainly has to be better than just one fifty-run stand in nine innings that the two have managed since the New Zealand series last year. And on four occasions during this period, both have been dismissed with the team total being 22 or less.

Prior to the onset of this home season, Rahul and Vijay had opened four times and the highest stand between them was 48 in the second innings of the Sydney Test. Vijay, who has had several great partnerships with Cheteshwar Pujara, hoped a big one with Rahul was around the corner. “Maybe a big partnership is around the corner between me and Rahul. Hopefully, it can happen in this (Bengaluru) match.”

Overall performance of India’s openers in the last four series plus the first Test against Australia hasn’t been any encouraging. Together, Indian openers have accumulated 654 runs in the last 21 innings, stretching from the series against West Indies, at an average of just over 31 runs with one century association (152 against England in Chennai) and three other fifty-plus stands.
DH News Service

A look at the 11 partnerships between Rahul and Vijay since they opened first in Sydney in 2015:
Sydney Test, 2015: I innings: 0 run; II innings: 48 runs
New Zealand series 2016 I Test: I innings: 42; II innings: 52
England series 2016 II Test: I innings: 6; II innings: 16 IV Test: I innings: 39
Bangladesh Test 2017: I innings: 2; II innings: 12
Australia Test 2017: I innings: 26; II innings: 10