Kumble hints at Rahul’s return to ease opening woes

"While Cook is most likely to open with left-hander Keaton Jennings (the England captain’s 11th opening partner in four years), Rahul, given that he’s a specialist opener and the confidence he has created in the team management, will walk out with Murali Vijay on Thursday," Kumble said.

KL Rahul India Opener

K.L. Rahul, returning from a shoulder injury, was the first to face throwdowns at India's first practice session after a six-day break.   -  K.R. Deepak

India has managed to cope without a settled opening pair, put up reasonable totals on the scoreboard and has won seven of the ten Test matches it has played this calendar year, starting from the four-Test series in the West Indies.

While England struggled for four years to find an opening partner in Haseeb Hameed for its captain Alastair Cook, after the retirement of Andrew Strauss, India has suffered acutely this year, with five sets of openers going to bat against the West Indies, New Zealand and England. Hopefully, the home team would be in better shape as regards its opening personnel when Australia arrives for a four-Test series next year.

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The last few months have seen India rely upon three main openers in Murali Vijay, K.L. Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan, bringing in old hands, Gautam Gambhir and Parthiv Patel, as replacements. The right-left combination seemed to be working well with Vijay and Dhawan hitting their straps with a 283-run stand against Bangladesh at Fatullah in June 2015. Since there has been a considerable drop in form and this has been noticeable in the home Test series this year. India has seen the following pairs open the innings; Vijay/Rahul, Rahul/Dhawan, Vijay/Dhawan, Vijay/Gambhir and Vijay/Patel.

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On Tuesday, India’s head coach Anil Kumble was quite practical in assessing the situation and said: "Ideally, yes. You would want a settled opening pair, but I think, in the circumstances, we have done really well. The injuries are not in our control, injuries are part and parcel of the game. Unforunately, Rahul got hit while he was fielding in Vizag and that is how he got the injury. Parthiv came in the last game and did a fantastic job at the top. I am sure Rahul will have a hit today and he will be fine; let’s see how it goes.

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"For New Zealand, we had three different opening pairs, even in the West Indies we had an injury to Vijay and then Shikhar got injured against New Zealand; then Gautam had that freak injury in Indore, but he could bat. So I think there is something happening with the openers in terms of injury, I hope that doesn’t go on. There has to be some stop at some stage.’’

Rahul, after a hamstring concern during the third Test against New Zealand at Indore, returned for the second Test against England at Visakhapatnam, but the shoulder injury he suffered ruled him out of the third Test at Mohali. Rahul was dismissed cheaply for 0 and 10 by seamer Stuart Broad. He was the first to face throwdowns at India’s first practice session after a six-day break and Kumble gave sufficient hints that he would back at the opener’s slot.

"While Cook is most likely to open with left-hander Keaton Jennings (the England captain’s 11th opening partner in four years), Rahul, given that he’s a specialist opener and the confidence he has created in the team management, will walk out with Murali Vijay on Thursday," Kumble said.

After his second-Test 108 against Australia at Sydney almost two years ago, the Karnataka right hander scored 108 against Sri Lanka last year and 158 against the West Indies at Kingston in July 2016. Rahul has truly raised hopes of establishing permanency and with seven more home Tests to be played (two against England, one against Bangladesh and four against Australia), he will have plenty of opportunities.

After a superb century in the first innings of the Rajkot Test, Vijay has been on a downhill with scores of 31, 20, 3, 12, 0. He fell to seamers Jimmy Anderson, Broad, Ben Stokes and Chris Woakes at Vizag and Mohali. Offering his view on the Tamil Nadu opener’s sudden dip in form, Kumble explained: "Vijay has been the most consistent batsmen over the last couple of years. He started off the series very well with a hundred in Rajkot and he has got out to similar kind of deliveries (short) which is something probably you can pinpoint as his weakness.

"But I don’t think that’s fair. He is someone who we certainly believe will come up with a big score. He did that in the first innings of this series. We certainly have that with us, when we go out in the nets and try and help him with that particular delivery; but I don’t really think we need to go too deep into why he is getting out that way. It is just a matter of time when he will start scoring runs and he has been the most consistent. So we certainly believe that it is just round the corner.’’

India’s highest opening stand this year has come from Rahul and Dhawan; they put on 87 against the West Indies at Kingston. There has been six partnerships under 30 runs. Clearly, India would be looking out to set this right sooner than later.