A couple of years ago, at the Adelaide Oval, the Indian cricket team rocked up, hoping to assert their dominance on Australian shores in a manner that had seemed unfathomable, in the years gone by. Yet, on the very first morning, the Indian cricket team capitulated, meaning that they handed the hosts the initiative they craved.
Fortunately for the tourists though, a superb rear-guard action by Cheteshwar Pujara allowed them a foothold – something that eventually propelled the Indian cricket team to an unparalleled triumph at the Adelaide Oval.
Post that, the Indian cricket team lost only one of the three remaining Tests, thereby ensuring that they conquered the land Down Under for the first time, at least in the longest format. Subsequently, that conquest was looked upon as the crowing glory of the Virat Kohli-Ravi Shastri era and in fact, it wasn’t something one was willing to argue about.
However, in sync with the sporting cycles that outfits have to undergo, that series also marked the proverbial beginning of the end for Murali Vijay – a batsman who had been the glue around which India’s batting had flourished in their run to the pinnacle. This came at a time when KL Rahul, another extremely talented yet unpredictable individual was shown the door, for cricketing reasons and of course, conversations over a cup of coffee.
Since then, Mayank Agarwal has established himself at the top of the order, having made his debut in that very assignment against the Australians. And, if one were inclined to draw parallels to fairy tales, he arrived as the gift the Indians had been crying out for, on Boxing Day.
Apart from that though, the Indian cricket team has had considerably lesser to shout about, as far as their opening batsmen in red-ball cricket are concerned. Though Rohit Sharma distinguished himself with a string of centuries in home conditions, his absence has again left the door ajar for any of the incumbents to stake a claim.
Unfortunately, none of them have covered themselves in any sort of glory, meaning that with a maiden overseas pink-ball Test looming, the Indian cricket team’s opening combination remains perhaps the grey area.
For starters, Prithvi Shaw just can’t seem to buy a run, even if he decides to spend an entire fortune on it. More worryingly though, the lean patch doesn’t necessarily point towards a dip in form, rather hinting at inherent flaws that exist in his technique.
Ever since making his international bow, Prithvi Shaw has seemed a batsman that isn’t too concerned about his foot movement. Blessed with incredible hand-eye coordination, the Mumbaikar has often been labelled a batsman in the Virender Sehwag mould.
Initially, that modus operandi bore fruit, with bowlers unable to bowl the right sort of lines and lengths, usually allowing him the room to free his arms and access the off side.
More recently though, opponents have begun sizing Prithvi Shaw up a lot better. The lines are a lot closer to off stump but more importantly, the lengths aren’t full enough to drive nor are they short enough to cut – something that has forced Prithvi Shaw to waft at deliveries that ought to be left alone.
Additionally, there has been increased scrutiny around his ability to bat for time – an aspect that could be vital, especially if Josh Hazlewood and Pat Cummins bowl anywhere close to their best. And, despite the stunner Prithvi Shaw took in the Indian cricket team’s warm up game, there remain considerable doubts about his fitness.
The other option the Indian cricket team could look at is Shubman Gill, who incidentally, was a part of Prithvi Shaw-led team which emerged victorious at the 2018 ICC U-19 Cricket World Cup.
Unsurprisingly, billions of eyes have been trained on how the Kolkata Knight Riders youngster would shape up for the Indian cricket team. Unlike Prithvi Shaw though, opportunities have been much harder to come by for Shubman Gill, meaning that he has had only fleeting glimpses at the international arena.
Consequently, he represents as greenhorn an alternative as any for the Indian cricket team and one that might be tested to the hilt, if he is cast into the deep end. For all one knows, he could well come out leading the pack if thrown to the wolves. Whether the Indian cricket team are willing to take that chance in the first game itself is another matter altogether.
Moreover, there could be just a couple of technical chinks that exist in Shubman Gill’s armour, at present. He has a tendency to be a little loose outside his off stump and is a compulsive player of the hook shot – facets that could lead to his downfall on the historically bouncy Australian tracks.
The final avenue the Indian cricket team could explore would be to install KL Rahul at the top of the order, although that would bring a touch of skepticism, considering his defensive mechanisms were ripped apart the last time he was on these shores.
Yet, in the months that have followed, KL Rahul has broken the shackles and has put in extra effort to truly realize his potential. Even in white-ball cricket, where he boasts all the strokes and the capability to be a tearaway match-winner, he has been willing to bide his time and gauge the situation before unfurling his repertoire of tricks.
Furthermore, the Indian cricket team has recently set a precedent for recalling premier white-ball batsman into the Test fold (read Rohit Sharma). And, it’s fair to say that that had worked out decently, until the Mumbai Indians skipper allegedly injured himself seriously.
Apart from those aspects, there is also the belief that if KL Rahul is to cut it as a top-notch Test opener, he has to strengthen his credentials and justify his talent over the next few months, or matches.
In fact, that bit of desperation could even enable him to scale peaks plenty had deemed insurmountable, not just because he has been batting like a dream in white-ball cricket, but also because he will be aided in his endeavors by Mayank Agarwal – someone who KL Rahul claims to be one of his best buddies.
Over the years, we have seen countless opening partnerships flourish due to the bond existing between its architects. To put things into further perspective, Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag ran rings around the opposition, despite not being explosive runners between the wicket. And, more importantly, neither looked the same without his preferred partner-in-crime.
Thus, rather fittingly, at the very place where KL Rahul’s batting prowess was put to the sword, he might have an opportunity to reclaim it and show the world how far he has come since that listless outing.
In fact, KL Rahul’s introduction to international cricket began with a ton at Sydney and who’s to say his second (or even third) coming might not be as spectacular, if not more. Or, at least, the Indian cricket team would hope so.
Having said that though, the Indian cricket team might have to burn the midnight oil to finalize the identity of their openers, considering each has their set of merits and demerits.
Luckily, with another practice match lined up, the Indian cricket team, unlike previous tours, might just have better clarity heading into the 1st Test at the Adelaide Oval on the 17th of December.
Yet, the caveat would again revolve around how the Indian cricket team juggles its resources, not only because it has plenty of half-baked options but also because it has shown a recent proclivity to shuffle the pack, just for the sake of it.
Rubbers Down Under are frequently decided by the decisions outfits make, and more importantly, by the ones that aren’t undertaken. Last time out, both Australia and the Indian cricket team made their fair share of mistakes, meaning that the result ultimately boiled down to the verve each portrayed in the batting department.
At this moment, the Indian cricket team isn’t any closer to finding the requisite batting combination. Yet, as sport has regularly taught us, there’s always room to stumble upon the right ingredients over the course of battle.
Time though, might not be a luxury the Indian cricket team would be accorded this time round, meaning that those puzzles would have to be decoded pretty swiftly. While that amps up the pressure on the Indian cricket team, it also raises the stakes for the hosts, considering that they might not want to become the first Australian outfit to lose two home series on the bounce.
In fact, considering the pedigree both sides boast, the series could well resemble a game of chess, wherein each move might have significant ramifications, in the present and of course, in the future. And, to that end, it would be wise if the Indian cricket team can unfurl the optimum opening gambit. Else, things could turn sour rather quickly.
And, for someone that arrives as the third-ranked Test outfit, surely that wouldn’t be the outcome the Indian cricket team wants, would it?