India’s opening woes continue

India’s opening woes continue

TOUGH TIMES: Indian openers have struggled to make meaningful contributions, compounding India's batting woes. Reuters

One of the many reasons that has seen the Indian middle-order crumble quite often over the last few years in non sub-continental conditions is the absence of a strong foundation.

While openers Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and now KL Rahul have flourished in the sub-continent and the West Indies, scoring runs at will that has often caused a selection dilemma for the team management on which two to play, they have generally struggled in South Africa, England and Australia.

Since the series in South Africa in December 2013, the Indian openers have posted seven century-plus stands and an equal number of half-century stands in Asian conditions but compare that to elsewhere and the numbers don’t make for a good reading. The last time India travelled to Australia in 2014-15, the openers could only manage two half-century stands in four games although on the personal front it was an immensely successful series for the Tamil Nadu batsman who scored one ton and four half-centuries.

In the last two trips India have made to South Africa (five matches), the average opening partnership is a meagre 19.80 with no half-century stands at all. In England, from the five games of 2014 and the two games played so far, the Indian openers average just 20.57 with just one fifty partnership which happened between Vijay and Dhawan in this series.

What has been hurting India the most, at least from the start of the year, is the collective poor form of Vijay and Rahul. The management initially reposed their faith in Dhawan in South Africa and England but with the left-hander just not having the technique to cope with seaming and swinging conditions, they went back to their trusted lieutenants Vijay and Rahul. Sadly, both of them have misfired.

Vijay, 34, is still preferred as the number one opener because of the composure and experience he brings to the crease. He’s quite adept at leaving the ball — very important prerequisite in overseas conditions — and rarely gets sucked into the trap of driving and being caught behind. While any batsman could have gotten out to the deliveries he got at Lord’s from James Anderson, late footwork cost him his wickets in Birmingham and if he can iron out that chink, he should be able to get back to run-scoring ways.

Rahul, rated highly back home owing to his genuine natural talent, has not been able to grab the chances that are coming his way. He kick-started the England tour with an unbeaten century in Manchester in the opening T20I and his celebrations after reaching the landmark gave an indication of how much it meant for him. With some guidance from experts in the think-tank, Rahul should be able to make the necessary adjustments to cope with the moving red ball. The Karnataka batsman also needs to be given the confidence from the team management of a longer run that could free him up and bring out the best in him. The team management’s revolving door policy hasn’t clearly helped his cause.  

With Dhawan all but proven that he can’t survive in non-Asian conditions and Vijay in the twilight of his career, it’s time the selectors start the hunt for their successors. Mayank Agarwal, thanks to the volume of runs he scored in domestic cricket last season, and the gifted Prithvi Shaw have been tipped by some former players to be given a trial. The two youngsters are definitely worth a try.

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