Australia vs India 2018-19: Why Rohit Sharma should open the batting in the 2nd innings of the Boxing Day Test
So the Boxing Day Test is finally underway. Both K L Rahul and Murali Vijay, who failed in the the previous two Test matches, were dropped, and a new opening pair in the form of Mayank Agarwal and Hanuma Vihari opened the innings for India.
While Agarwal, who has practically forced his way into the team against all odds with a truckload of runs in domestic cricket, is a natural opening batsman, his partner at the other end is at best a makeshift opener. And while he scored a mere 8 runs, which by stats is less than the average that Rahul or Vijay were scoring (12 runs), he has done the most important part of the job as an opener in foreign conditions - seeing off the new ball.
Vihari faced 66 deliveries in his innings and along with Agarwal held the fort for more than 18 overs before falling to a Pat Cummins snorter.
But while legends and stories could feature the grit and determination he has shown this early in his Test career, his career as such will be built on stats. And this innings would do him no good in that aspect.
It is therefore in the best interests of the entire Indian team that Rohit Sharma should open the innings in the 2nd innings, or at least the next match. Particularly so if he fails at the number 6 position this time around too.
Contrary to belief and expectations, this could actually turn out to be a win-win for all stakeholders. Here are a few reasons why:
1. To force a result in this Test
If the early signs of Day 1 are anything to go by, the surface at the MCG is a slow, flat deck. Bowling attacks will struggle to run through the opposition batting ranks, and the slowness of the track coupled with long boundaries and slow outfields have made run acquisition rather difficult.
India's current top order of Vihari, Agarwal and Pujara are all mostly of the same accumulative build. If India are needed to bat again in this match, it might well be into the 4th day of the match. And if India need to force a result, then it becomes imperative to have someone like Rohit up there who can force the issue with quick runs once he is set.
2. Rohit can launch a full-blooded counter-attack
Rohit was dropped from the Test set-up not very long ago. And he made his return to the Test team riding on the back of his limited overs form.
His style of play and his ability to play shots on the backfoot were the primary advantages that he had in his favor.
It is no secret that the new and hard kookaburra is the best time to play your shots on these Australian venues. And with the ball not expected to swing as much at the MCG and SCG as in Perth or Adelaide, there is plenty of justification to allow Rohit to climb to the top order and launch a full-blooded counter-attack.
That could put the Australian bowling attack off their line and length, and thereby make things easier for the other Indian batsmen.
3. It is imperative to be fair to Hanuma Vihari
Vihari has had a pretty difficult time at the Test level so far. Despite his consistent run of form over long periods in domestic tournaments, his call-up was met with a lot of criticism, albeit for reasons that were alien to him.
Since then, he has done pretty much everything that has been asked of him. He made his debut in one of the toughest places for an Indian batsman, England, against an in-form bowling attack led by James Anderson.
Vihari still scored a 50 on debut and also bowled a few overs of handy off spin. He was then dropped right after that and did not feature in the home series against West Indies.
In Australia, Rohit was preferred over him in the first Test, and it was only after an injury to the former that rendered him unavailable for selection that Vihari was offered another chance.
Even in Perth he showed solid class and temperament, albeit with limited results to show for it. He also proved to be a handy back up spinner and picked up a couple of wickets.
And now he has donned the opener's role. The 6th batsman/all-rounder's role is understood to be a toss-up between Hardik Pandya and Rohit / Vihari as of now. It is therefore only fair that Vihari is given an extended run at that position, so that he can thrive in an environment he is comfortable in.