KL Rahul vs Rohit Sharma: Who should open for India in Test matches?

Vinay Chhabaria

KL Rahul (L) and Rohit Sharma (R)

Recently, India's chief selector MSK Prasad stated in an interview that he believes it might be time to try Rohit Sharma as India's opener in red-ball cricket in place of KL Rahul. While the chief selector agreed that Rahul is talented and deserves more opportunities, the Karnataka-born batsman would have surely disappointed the selection committee with his poor performances in the Caribbean.

Many fans and pundits of the game want Rohit, India's limited overs opener, to don the numbered whites and open for India in the ICC Test Championship. But would it be justified for him to replace Rahul?

Now bear in mind first that Rohit has never opened for India in Test matches; he has always been a part of the middle order. In the 47 Test innings he has played at the international level, Sharma has batted at the No. 3, 4, 5 and 6 positions, aggregating 1,585 runs at an average of 39.63.

He has scored over 1,000 runs while batting at No. 6, but the Hitman averages a mere 21.40 while batting at No. 3 for India in Tests. Rohit's highest score at No. 3 is 53, and he has even recorded a duck at this position.

Rahul on the other hand has opened in 54 innings for India where he has scored 1,915 runs at an average of 36.83. He has failed to register a significant performance in 6 innings in the middle order, but he has slammed five hundreds and 10 half-centuries at the opening position.

When it comes to the numbers of the two players in overseas conditions, Rohit has 816 runs in 33 innings outside India. His batting average falls to 26.32, and he is yet to record a Test century in overseas conditions.

Rahul meanwhile has batted in 38 innings away from home, amassing 1,121 runs at an average of 29.50. He has three hundreds and three half-tons to his name as well.

Rahul has clearly done better than Rohit in the longest format of the game, but there's an argument to be made that Rohit has never played at the opening position.

Rohit Sharma has struggled against new ball bowlers

Now let us have a look at the bowlers who have dismissed the Mumbai-based batsman in red-ball cricket. South Africa's fiery right-arm fast bowler Kagiso Rabada has gotten the better of him in three innings while Rabada's teammate Vernon Philander has dismissed the Mumbai Indians skipper thrice as well. Even Sri Lankan fast bowler Dhammika Prasad has taken his wicket twice.

These fast bowlers usually get support from the pitch in the opening phases of a Test match. Given Rohit's struggles against swing, it seems he will find it extremely difficult to score runs as an opener in overseas Test matches.

There is no doubt that he is a fantastic opener in limited overs cricket, but so is Jason Roy. And the cricketing universe has seen how the Englishman has failed in red-ball cricket; Roy has aggregated a mere 110 runs in 4 Test matches at an average of 13.75.

It is not right to include a limited overs specialist in Tests just because he has been doing well in the shorter formats.

The real reason why Rohit is on the brink of breaking into the Indian Test team is Rahul's poor form. Though Rahul's overall numbers are good, his recent performances have not been up to the mark.

Over 365 days have passed since KL Rahul registered a Test hundred

The Kings XI Punjab star has not gone past the hundred-run mark in Tests since 7th September 2018, and has only two centuries to his name in the last three years. These are definitely not good numbers for an opening batsman.

But given how talented Rahul is, he should ideally receive one last opportunity to prove himself in the South Africa series. In case he fails to deliver, India can consider picking Prithvi Shaw (whose suspension will end in November) in the squad.

Another interesting thing to note is that Bangladesh is touring India in November 2019. Since Bangladesh recently lost a Test match against Afghanistan, India can take the risk of trying a new opener in the series against them. Someone like Priyank Panchal or even Abhimanyu Easwaran could be given a chance to prove their mettle at the international level.

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