Put in to bat on Day 1 of the ongoing second Test at Lord’s, India’s openers Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul laid a fine foundation for the visitors with the latter completing his sixth Test century. Cheteshwar Pujara however, failed to regain his form, falling to James Anderson yet again.
The great Indian opening turnaround
In India's last overseas cycle, there was a degree of inevitability about Virat Kohli walking in to bat within the first 15 overs to rescue his team after an uneasy start. While the Indian openers showcased solidity at home, the struggles were magnified time and again in the SENA countries. To reinstate further, between the start of 2015 and 2020 end, the Indian openers averaged a terrible 22.72, thereby often exposing India's middle-order to add to Kohli's woes.
But in 2021, the openers have done an exceptional job, and on the opening day of the Lord's Test, KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma continued from where they had left at Trent Bridge, disallowing the English bowlers to dictate terms. Since 2011, it was the first time when a team failed to strike in the first 10 overs after inserting the opposition in at Lord's, as per Cricbuzz. This year, the Indian openers have already lasted 20-plus overs in five out of nine innings, which stands in contrast to the period between January 2011 to December 2020, when there was no such instance outside Asia.
Both Rahul and Rohit, known for their naturally aggressive batting, have curbed their natural instincts on the tour thus far, while respecting the conditions. The well-judged leaves have been a feature of their batting. In the first Test too, they had shown remarkable patience and skills to get India off to a great start and laid the platform for others to deliver. So far, they have exemplified the art of batting solidly in English conditions and helped to set the tone for the visitors.
Rohit Sharma finally makes it count
26, 52, 44, 7, 34, 30, 36, 12* - Rohit Shama's scores in away Tests in the lead-up to the Lord's Test didn’t make the best of readings. It was evident that he had worked hard on his technique from the Australia series, and was exhibiting the patience and temperament required to succeed as an opener in Tests. However, despite all the modifications to his game, he invariably failed to capitalize on his starts and was guilty of throwing it away far too often. With a point to prove in overseas conditions, he wasn't helping his case even in his second coming, despite more experience under his belt.
Come the Lord's Test, India were inserted in some challenging conditions, with 1.5 degrees of swing on average, more than all but one of the last 10 opening days at Lord's (according to CricViz). Rohit again helped himself to a promising start after biding his time in the middle, but on day one of the Lord's Test, he converted his start into a bigger and more meaningful knock, hammering 83 off 145, helping India put 126 runs on board for the opening wicket. It was a much-needed inning from the seasoned Indian batsman, and if not for a snorter from James Anderson, he looked set to score his first overseas Test hundred.
The most remarkable thing about Rohit's batting was his ability to punish loose deliveries consistently. At the same time, he treated good deliveries with respect, but the moment bowlers erred on line and lengths, he turned on his god-mode and played some dismissive shots. The Mumbaikar also switched gears nonchalantly, and post a sedate start in the first 10 overs, came into his own, especially after the lunch session. This is a knock that should bolster Rohit's confidence, and it just looks like a matter of time before he gets a century against his name in this series.
Pujara's dry spell continues
When Cheteshwar Pujara came out to bat in the closing stages of the fourth day's play in the opening Test, his brief stay at the crease had given a ray of hope to the millions of Indians back home. And that wasn't because he was striking at close to 100, but for the promise, confidence and solidity he had shown, be it for less than half an hour. The value of Pujara goes unabated for India given his top-notch skills. But, when a batsman starts underperforming at the crucial No.3 position, it does raise a few concerns.
Pujara failed to build on his good touch from the last innings and failed again to get a big score under his belt. What made it even more appalling was the fact that the openers had already laid down a solid foundation and in spite of that, he failed to cash in on it. And the way he was dismissed also rings a warning bell. Pujara is known for his watertight technique and he doesn't generally flirt with deliveries away from his body. But, against James Anderson, he poked at a delivery that he should have left, and offered catching practice to Jonny Bairstow in the slips.
To put things into perspective, in 23 Test innings since the start of 2020, the 33-year-old has aggregated 552 runs at 25.09. Pujara hasn't crossed the 100-run mark since the 2018/19 tour of Australia, where he had got three tons. Unfortunately, for India, despite the trust shown, the right-hander hasn’t quite lived up to the expectations. A few more poor outings might well result in a change at the top anytime soon.