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The 'Opening Conundrum' in Tests: Rohit Sharma or a proven performer in the domestic circuit?

The failure of Indian Openers in South Africa, Australia and now the West Indies tour, with the exception of a decent showing by Mayank Agarwal down under, has put selectors in a unique dilemma to look beyond the pool of openers they have been relying upon. No combination at the top is working for India at the moment.

None of Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul and Murali Vijay has averaged over 30 in the past two years. Therefore, selectors are bound to think out of the box and take a call on the matter.

The chief selector MSK Prasad has made it clear that their first choice for the opener in Tests is Rohit Sharma and they are ready to give him a longer run. Strengthening this claim, former Indian captain, Sourav Ganguly and former middle-order batsman, VVS Laxman has also backed Rohit Sharma and expressed confidence that he will carry his good form from the World Cup to Tests.

However, the question remains whether Rohit Sharma is the right candidate to be given a chance at the top of the order or shall India move to the domestic circuit to find a new face like Mayank Agrawal?

Let us statistically understand the cases of other openers from first-class cricket who have been in the pipeline for the past some years.

Abhimanyu Easwaran

Easwaran, the right-hand top-order batsman has been around in the Indian domestic circuit for 6 years since he made his debut against Uttar Pradesh back in 2013. He could be a great prospect at the top of the order if given a chance. Abhimanyu has scored over 4000 runs in 52 first-class matches at an average of about 50. He was also the 7th highest run-getter in the Ranji Trophy 2019 season with 861 runs in 11 innings at an astonishing average of 95.66.

In many ways, Abhimanyu does justice to the top order position. He is calm, mature and technically very sound to face any kind of bowling attack. His batting style has the resemblance of Rahul Dravid at his peak.

In Duleep Trophy 2019 final, Easwaran struck a match-defining 153 for India Red and grabbed the Man of the Match award for his valiant contribution.

Priyank Panchal

Gujarat-born Priyank Panchal is a very common name in Indian first-class circuit. For the past few seasons, he has been scoring truckloads of runs. Over 1000 runs in 2016, ~600 in 2017 and ~900 in 2018 Ranji Trophy, he has always been among the highest run aggregators in the tournament.

A veteran with 87 first-class matches on his back, Panchal has scored 6186 runs at an average of 47.22 His experience and understanding of the game could be a massive factor if selectors wave a green flag to him. Solid technique, easy to eyes and a great game sense landed him India Red’s captaincy in Duleep Trophy 2019. Priyank has got all the guns in his kitty which are required to fire when the time is right. Also, he successfully led his team India Red to the title this year.

On the other hand, there is no denying that three-time double centurion in ODIs, Rohit Sharma doesn't have the class and temperament to succeed at the top in Test Cricket. The only thing that allows a doubt to creep in is his numbers in Tests. In 27 games he has scored 1585 runs at a modest average of 39.42.

The followers of the game would eagerly await the home season of 2019-20 to get an answer to the opening conundrum in Tests. The Visakhapatnam Test that starts on October 2 between the hosts and South Africa would tell us whether India invests in the future or falls back on its tried and tested cards.

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