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India’s upper order (1-3) woes in Tests: Only Rohit Sharma has batting average of 45+ in WTC 2021-23

India’s upper order (1-3) woes in Tests: Only Rohit Sharma has batting average of 45+ in WTC 2021-23.

Ind vs Eng 3rd Test, Day 3 highlights_ Rohit Sharma's 59 at the top give India a solid start at Leeds. India trail by 139 runs; India 215_2, England 432. (Photo_ ©BCCI_Twitter)
Rohit Sharma ave 45.80 from 6 games in WTC 2021-23 (Photo: ©BCCI/Twitter)

For a team that is traditionally known to be a batting-heavy unit, the current India Test batting line-up has been a pale shadow of its past. Especially the upper order (1-3) which is expected to score bulk of the runs, their returns in the past couple of years has been underwhelming.


Post restoration of normalcy after the Covid-19 pandemic, India’s success rate overseas has increased without any doubt but at the same time there has been a drastic loss of form in several of India’s upper-order batters including KL Rahul and Cheteshwar Pujara, which is a huge cause of concern for the team. It is high time that the team management under the helm of skipper Rohit Sharma and coach Rahul Dravid must ponder upon this problem.


More often than not it has been the middle order and lower middle order who have bailed India out of trouble when the upper order has collapsed as it so often has in the recent past. This includes games in home conditions. Again, we reiterate that despite this India have been successful in the longest format of the game.


The following table clearly depicts what we are trying to say here. Here is the performance of some of the regular members of India’s Test squad in the batting positions from numbers 1 to 3 in World Test Championship (WTC) 2021-23.



Overall stats for upper order (1-3) in WTC 2021-23 (Criteria: Minimum of 3 Tests)

Player

Matches

Runs

Average

100s/50s

Rohit Sharma

6

458

45.80

1/2

Cheteshwar Pujara

12

731

34.80

1/5

Mayank Agarwal

7

436

33.53

1/2

KL Rahul

9

598

33.22

2/2

Shubman Gill

5

322

32.20

1/1

Hanuma Vihari

3

155

31

0/1

From the above stats, we can infer that India’s top-three have been highly inconsistent in the 14 Tests they have played after the WTC 2019-21 Final debacle; only Rohit Sharma has scored runs at a batting average in excess of 45 in the given Tests which cover the recent Bangladesh tour, home series against New Zealand and Sri Lanka, and the tough away tours to England and South Africa.


It must be noted that India still have a four-match home Test series against Australia in February 2023, and only a comprehensive win there would seal their spot in the final of WTC 2021-23.


Stats of upper order (1-3) at Home venues in WTC 2021-23

Player

Matches

Runs

Average

100s/50s

Rohit Sharma

2

90

30

0/0

Cheteshwar Pujara

2

95

23.75

0/0

Mayank Agarwal

4

301

43

1/1

Shubman Gill

2

144

36

0/1

Hanuma Vihari

2

124

41.33

0/1


Stats of upper order (1-3) at away venues in WTC 2021-23 (Criteria: Minimum of 3 Tests)

Player

Matches

Runs

Average

100s/50s

Rohit Sharma

4

368

52.57

1/2

Cheteshwar Pujara

10

636

37.41

1/5

Mayank Agarwal

3

135

22.50

0/1

Shubman Gill

3

178

29.66

0/1

KL Rahul

9

598

33.33

2/2


A careful peak at the above stats is enough to conclude who was India’s best upper order batter in this WTC cycle. India skipper Rohit Sharma had a memorable England tour where he was the leading run-scorer for his team with 368 runs from 4 Tests at an average of 52.57, but his home record is quite unbecoming of his stature in world cricket where he has managed just 90 runs in 2 Tests at a paltry average of 30. Yes, he missed bulk of India’s Test assignments owing to injuries but he is someone who is more than capable of giving good starts to the team. It goes without saying that Rohit needs to up the ante for the forthcoming Border Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23.


Cheteshwar Pujara had ordinary tours to England and South Africa, and was subsequently dropped for the Sri Lanka home Tests. However, a long pending century in Bangladesh might have given a fresh lease of life to his Test career. But with an average of 34.80 in WTC 2021-23 cycle, Pujara is nowhere close to his best.


Apart from them, India have tried three openers - KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal and Shubman Gill – in the said timeframe. The trio showed glimpses of their potential but have been highly inconsistent in recent times. Former vice-captain, Ajinkya Rahane was dropped owing to his string of poor scores in the last few years.


Ind vs Eng 2nd Test, Day 1 Highlights_ KL Rahul struck a century at lords and remain unbeaten at 127_. (Image_ BCCI)
KL Rahul ave 33.22 from 9 games in WTC 2021-23 (Image: BCCI)

No India batter in Top-10 run-scorers list in WTC 2021-23 cycle

The batting show of India’s Test side has been disappointing to say the least in this WTC cycle, and India don’t have a single batter among the top-10 of highest run-getters list. The best India batter is Rishabh Pant who is at the 14th position, having made 868 runs in this WTC. The next best is Pujara who is at the 23rd position.

Player

Matches

Runs

Average

100s/50s

Joe Root

22

1915

53.19

8/6

Babar Azam

14

1527

61.08

4/10

Jonny Bairstow

15

1285

51.40

6/2

Usman Khawaja

12

1275

79.68

5/5

M Labuschagne

15

1265

57.50

5/4

Litton Das

13

1119

48.65

3/7

Steve Smith

15

1107

55.35

3/6

Abdullah Shafique

12

992

47.23

3/4

Travis Head

14

973

54.05

3/5

Ben Stokes

18

971

32.36

2/4

This could be discouraging for Indian fans, but our upper order needs to come out good in the near future. So, this is high time that the team management begins to look for replacements to solve India’s upper order woes. This should not be an immediate contingency plan but it will be prudent to groom players for the future and the efforts should begin soon.


Batters like Pujara and KL Rahul have had a sub-par WTC thus far, and it could be the best time to bring in fresh faces. Though Pujara is statistically India’s 2nd best batter this WTC, the big knock was against Bangladesh and his returns in the rest of the series have been poor.


India A tour of Bangladesh_ Abhimanyu Easwaran scored 157 in first innings of 2nd Unofficial Test _ Walking Wicket (Source_ ©BCB)
Abhimanyu scored 157 in first innings of 2nd Unofficial Test (Source: ©BCB)

Abhimanyu Easwaran & Priyank Panchal stake big claim to openers slot

The opener from Bengal, Abhimanyu Easwaran has been highly prolific in this domestic calendar year. After two centuries in two games for India A, Easwaran cracked two more in back-to-back Ranji games. He now has 5 centuries in each of the last 5 completed domestic games he has featured in, and could be on track to play for India soon with a first-class runs tally of 5993 and a batting average of over 47.


Along with Easwaran, the talented Gujarat opener Priyank Panchal also stakes a big claim to the opener slot; he has scored 7830 runs in 110 first-class games at an impressive average of 46.60.


However, with the presence of KL Rahul and Shubman Gill as openers, along with skipper Rohit also at the opening slot and Pujara at number 3, Easwaran and Panchal may not be in the reckoning for the Australia home series.


The first Test of the Border Gavaskar Trophy 2022-23 between India and Australia will be played at the Vidarbha Cricket Association (VCA) Stadium in Nagpur from February 9-13. The second Test will be played in Delhi from February 17-21. In more than a week’s time, the third Test will be played in Dharamsala from March 1-5, followed by the fourth Test in Ahmedabad from March 9-13.


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