This Test series between India and England seems to have provided quite a few much-needed answers for the hosts. Plenty of positives have emerged, such as stellar performances from debutants like Haryana all-rounder Jayant Yadav and Karnataka batsman Karun Nair. But one specific thing that will make Indian selectors quietly confident is that opener KL Rahul has done a fine job and lived up to everyone’s expectations.
India’s opening woes have been quite obvious, as the Virat Kohli led unit has tried and tested numerous opening combinations, but to no avail. The problem persisted in the New Zealand series, as throughout the three games, there was a different opening combination.
For the first three Tests of this series too, the problem persisted, before KL Rahul and M. Vijay finally opened together in Mumbai. That would have happened at Chepauk as well, had Vijay not been injured.
Rahul had a mighty fine series, as he averaged nearly 58 with the bat, while Vijay too had a productive outing with an average exceeding 40. The common issue for the duo was their lack of consistency, a feast followed a famine. In the long run, if this pair is to reap dividends for India at the top, consistent performances will be vital.
Even more heartening was to see wicketkeeper Parthiv Patel, who is recalled after an 8-year gap, open the innings and shoulder the responsibility right at the top. After spending hours behind the stumps, Parthiv, like a selfless team player was was willing to open, and did so with distinction.
In three innings as an opener, he has scored half centuries twice, and a score in the 40s. What this means is that now when team India tour overseas, Patel can be counted to perform the backup wicketkeeper’s job once Wriddhiman Saha (the first choice wicketkeeper) is fit. Patel will not just add value to the team as a backup wicketkeeper, but even as a reliable‘ backup opener.
Due to Murali Vijay, KL Rahul and Parthiv’s excellent opening performances, we can now be sure that Shikhar Dhawan and Gautam Gambhir won’t be in the news as much.
As far as Gambhir is concerned, his Test career is probably done and dusted, as age, which is an important factor, is not on his side. Expecting Gambhir to ever don the Indian colours again would be a fantasy.
The case of the flamboyant Shikhar Dhawan gets even more enigmatic. Dhawan, despite multiple failures, was backed by the team management, mainly due to the X factor and panache associated with his batting, where he could run away with the game in a session. All that talk about Dhawan being destructive has vanished into thin air since results were nowhere to be seen.
While there is no doubt that Dhawan is a marauder in ODIs, who scores runs for fun, his credentials in Test cricket are rather debatable. A batting average of 38.52 in 23 games is not what is expected from a player of Dhawan’s caliber and class. The southpaw has four centuries to his name, but despite that, has failed to consistently score. Whenever he has done well, he has failed to make a big score. That is evident by his rather low batting average, which in this modern era of Test cricket seems even more derelict.
An important criterion in which Dhawan missed out was that he failed to make an impact at home. In Test matches played in India, Dhawan averages 37.36, with 411 runs in 12 innings. Also, it must be noted that 45% of these runs at home came in one innings alone, in his debut game. Since then, he has scored just 224 runs in 11 innings at 20.36, an average that is poor even for a lower order batsman.
Had the Delhi lad piled up a couple of big knocks at home, things would have been drastically different, as he would have surely remained in the fray for the opening slot.
But now, with Vijay and Rahul proving worthy incumbents, Dhawan’s Test career seems to have faded away. His main focus now should be upon the ODIs, and the Champions Trophy in the coming year, the very tournament in which he won the Man of the Series award in its previous edition in 2013.
As far as the near future is concerned, it is safe to assume that Vijay and KL Rahul will remain the openers even when India tour overseas, starting with the tour of South Africa in late 2017. The duo themselves need to monitor few aspects of their game, but despite that they seem to be an ideal pair. Rahul can be an agressor, as shifting gears seems no big deal for him at present. Vijay, on the other hand, can accumulate the runs with his ever patient and monk like mindset.
To conclude, the icing on the cake has surely been Parthiv Patel’s batting. On overseas assignments, the veteran wicketkeeper can be expected to be the backup opener cum backup wicketkeeper. Having said that, things look increasingly optimistic for these individuals at the top, and only the execution part away from home remains.