Agarwal, Easwaran will bring genuine value of recent success; Should Rahul & Gill make way for them?
Border Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23: Mayank Agarwal and Abhimanyu Easwaran will bring value of recent success; Should KL Rahul and Shubman Gill make way for them?
Moments after India’s rare loss in a home Test in Indore on Friday, tough questions followed tough choices for India. On a pitch that offered so much spin even from the first day of the Test, India managed 109 and 163 in both their innings, losing the game by nine wickets.
The way India began the series with two victories in Nagpur and Delhi and that too after coming back from behind, it was almost certain that the hosts would pocket the series before the fourth Test in Ahmedabad. But India’s struggle at the upper-order hurt them hard in Indore as it has in the whole series.
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Let’s take a look at how current India Test openers - Shubman Gill and KL Rahul - have performed of late.
Rahul’s average of 30.28 since 2021 with Gill’s inexperience make India struggle
The talk of the town before the third Test in Indore was the form of KL Rahul and whether he was going to take further part in the series. But the way India captain Rohit Sharma and head coach Rahul Dravid backed him during the press conference after Delhi Test, it pointed that KL Rahul might get another opportunity in the series.
KL Rahul is going through a very lean patch in his Test career of late. Since 2021, the India Test opener has scored 636 runs in 21 innings at an average of 30.28 and strike rate of 40.69, including two half-centuries and couple of hundreds with a best of 129. But the numbers have fallen down terribly if the period is compressed further: since 2022, Rahul has notched up just 175 runs in 11 innings at an average of just 15.90 and strike rate of 35.42, with just one half-century.
In the recently finished two-match away series against Bangladesh, Rahul scored just 57 runs in four innings at an average of 14.25 and strike rate of 33.92, while during the ongoing Border-Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23 against Australia, he has scores of 20, 17 and 1 in three innings before getting dropped.
Rahul was replaced by Shubman Gill during the Indore Test and the latter didn’t have a great outing either. Since 2022, Gill has got just eight innings to show his calibre where he has collected 204 runs at an average of 25.50 and strike rate of 62.57 including one century with a best of 110. In the recently finished Bangladesh series, Gill recorded 157 runs in two games at an average of 39.25 and strike rate of 59.02.
But Gill is little inexperienced as regards playing Tests in India; in seven Tests he took part in India, Gill has managed just 289 runs at an average of 24.08 and strike rate of 58.73, with just two fifties including the best score of 52. Even in the Indore Test, he had scores of 21 and 5. During the second innings, when he was required to show some patience early on in the innings, he played a bad shot against Nathan Lyon and was sent back to the dressing room.
Perhaps, India could look for a few other openers like Mayank Agarwal and Abhimanyu Easwaran who have been phenomenal for a few seasons in Ranji Trophy.
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Mayank Agarwal - Top run-scorer in Ranji Trophy 2022-23 with 990 runs
Mayank Agarwal last played for India in Tests in March 2022 against Sri Lanka and was dropped after that because of his poor form. Since the start of that year, Agarwal had scored 130 runs in seven innings at an average of 18.57 and strike rate of 60.74 with a best score of just 33. But since then, he has stood up in domestic games, particularly during Ranji Trophy 2022-23 where he scored 990 runs in nine games at an average of 82.50 and strike rate of 59.96, including six fifties and three centuries with a best score of 249.
With his experience of playing on slow and spinning pitches in India for a long time, Agarwal will be really useful for his side. Just after their defeat in Indore, India captain Rohit Sharma asked the batters to play aggressively even on rank turners to put full pressure back on the opponent and Agarwal’s wild nature of play will suit that too.
Agarwal who has 1488 runs in 21 Tests at an average of 41.33 and strike rate of 53.48 with four centuries and six fifties, has notched up 898 runs in 13 Test innings in India at an average of 69.07 and strike rate of 57.67 with four centuries and one fifty including his best score of 243. With the rich vein of recent form, Agarwal should be given another chance to make a return in the Test team.
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Abhimanyu Easwaran with 798 runs in Ranji Trophy 2022-23 deserves a look in
Just like Mayank Agarwal, the Bengal opener Abhimanyu Easwaran too has been really consistent in the last few years in the Ranji Trophy. During the recently finished Ranji 2022-23 edition, the Bengal opener was the seventh highest run-scorer in the tournament with 798 runs in eight games at an average of 66.50 and strike rate of 60.36, with three half centuries and three hundreds including a best score of 170.
The consistency has been such that even in the Ranji Trophy 2021-22, Easwaran piled up 413 runs in five games at an average of 41.30 and strike rate of 56.26 including three fifties and one century with a best score of 114. Even last year, playing for India A against Bangladesh A, Easwaran cracked 299 runs in two games at an average of 149.50 and strike rate of 58.97 and that was why he was included in the squad for the two-match Test series against Bangladesh.
In the Irani Cup 2023 at the Captain Roop Singh Stadium in Gwalior, playing for the Rest of India against Madhya Pradesh, Easwaran scored 154 in the first innings with the help of 17 boundaries and two sixes. All these numbers suggest that the 27-year-old Abhimanyu Easwaran should be given a proper chance in Tests.
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Preference must for players with sizeable appearances in domestic games
It should be really simple. Players who have been really consistent in playing domestic cricket over the years with some colourful performances should be given more opportunities. Obviously, because of that, they are much more familiar with the conditions at home. Due to his international commitments, KL Rahul hasn’t been part of the Ranji Trophy for a long time. On the other hand, both Mayank Agarwal and Abhimanyu Easwaran have been familiar with the Ranji Trophy for a long time.
Also, whenever Australia or England make their trip to the sub-continent, they have never been afraid of bringing young spinners in the team: those who are not that experienced in playing in these sort of conditions. Why can’t India do the same? What they can do is giving more chances to the experienced players when they go abroad while the domestic players could earn game time in the home season.
There have been a few India players who are getting near the end of their careers; for those players, India should be ready with the changes and players like Mayank Agarwal or Abhimanyu Easwaran who have been really consistent for a long time in domestic circuit should be given more opportunities.
The fourth and final Test of Border Gavaskar Trophy (BGT) 2023 will start on March 9 at the Narendra Modi Stadium in Ahmedabad.
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