Rohit Sharma top candidate in Test opener hunt

Bengal batsman Abhimanyu Easwaran and Gujarat captain Priyank Panchal are the other options available for the M.S.K Prasad-led selection committee.

After Rohit’s exceptional run in the World Cup, a record five hundreds, a section of the selection committee feel he should open in Tests as well.   -  FILE PHOTO/ VIVEK BENDRE

 

India may have justified its top ranking by returning from the West Indies with optimum points in its maiden assignment of the World Test Championship. But as the national selection panel sits down on Thursday to select the squad for the home Test series versus South Africa, the opening combination conundrum is likely to put them in a dilemma.

Despite Virat Kohli’s men having triumphed in its last three Test series in the past one year — a rare series win in Australia, sandwiched between home and away victories versus West Indies — the opening combination has been far from being stable.

Ever since the selectors and the team management decided to look beyond Shikhar Dhawan, five batsmen have been tried in the opener’s position. None of the combinations have worked. The opening stand average of 28.07 in 14 innings over the last 12 months underlines the weak link.

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Once the selectors moved on from the reliable combination of Dhawan and M. Vijay, K.L. Rahul was supposed to step into the role of the senior opener. However, let alone leading the charge, the Karnataka batsman has struggled to even maintain his place in the team. His statemate Mayank Agarwal, who debuted in Australia, has looked the most assured willow-wielder at the top of the order.

With Rahul running out of time, Dhawan and Vijay not in contention and Prithvi Shaw serving doping suspension, it will be interesting to see if the national selectors decide to blood in a specialist opener for the South Africa series, set to begin in Visakhapatnam on October 2.

Priyank Panchal and Abhimanyu Easwaran have been knocking on the doors of the selectors for more than two seasons now. While Panchal, the Gujarat captain, has the experience and matured head on his shoulders, Bengal’s Abhimanyu has been in sensational form for India A and in the Duleep Trophy.

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If the selectors, in consultation with the team management, decide to present Rohit Sharma the role of the Test opener, then both Panchal and Abhimanyu’s wait for the India jersey will be prolonged.

Considering Rohit’s exceptional run in the World Cup — a record five hundreds as an opener — a section of the selection committee and the team management feels he should be asked to open in Tests as well. It will be interesting to see if the Mumbai marauder gets a new lifeline for his topsy-turvy Test career.

India openers since October 2018

K.L Rahul: Innings 12, Runs 195, Best 44, Average 17.72

M. Agarwal: Innings 7, Runs 275, Best 77, Average 39.28

Prithvi Shaw: Innings 3, Runs 237, Best 134, Average 118.50

Murali Vijay: Innings 4, Runs 49, Best 20, Average 12.25

Hanuma Vihari: Innings 2 Runs 21, Best 13, Average 10.50