Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul had never opened the batting together in Tests before the ongoing series between England and India. Now they look set for a long stint at the top, having shown plenty of patience, promise and runs to show the way for the rest of India’s batsmen.
When the squad for India’s tour to England was announced, many may have wondered why KL Rahul, fourth in line for an unlikely opening spot, was in the scheme of things at all, having not played a Test in two years. Yet an injury to Shubman Gill paved the way for Rahul’s return and he has grabbed his opportunity with both hands.
Four Tests into the series, India’s new-look pairing is batting like they’re an established duo with fifty Tests under their belt. Despite having never opened together before the start of this series, Rohit and Rahul already have the fourth-highest aggregate away from home by any Indian opening pair since the start of 2010 (India have tried 19 different pairs in that period). For a new pair, it may be a rather surprising stat, but they’ve already played the joint-most innings by an Indian opening pair in England (8), and amassed the third-best aggregate.
In fact, their aggregate of 421 runs so far is the fourth-highest by any visiting opening pair in England this century, bettered only by the duos of Herschelle Gibbs-Graeme Smith, Chris Rogers-David Warner, and Matthew Hayden-Justin Langer. Biding your time in the middle is also a vital attribute, and, among the same pool of openers, Rohit and Rahul have faced the third-most deliveries – 985.
Out of the 73 opening pairs to have visited England this century, only 14 have at least one 100+ stand, and that small group included India’s incumbent pair.
KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma's opening partnership has scored 288 runs this series. That puts them into the top 20 for most runs scored by an opening partnership in a Test series in England. #ENGvIND
— The CricViz Analyst (@cricvizanalyst) September 4, 2021
The two have been the engine of India’s batting in the series so far, standing in complete contrast to a misfiring middle order that has been inconsistent with their returns.
And it isn’t just the combined numbers – both Rahul and Rohit have turned over a new leaf in their respective careers. In this series, Rohit has faced 130+ deliveries thrice – only twice had he done it before in away Tests. As he continues to grow from strength to strength as an opener, there seems to be a marked change in his batting approach as well, with more emphasis on playing straighter, instead of pushing deliveries away from his body to the cover region like he used to early in his career.
KL Rahul, on the other hand, has combined his usually tight technique with more flair and assurance, showing a good estimate of his off stump while choosing his battles carefully. His century in the first Test was a sign of things to come, and he’s since been a dependable presence up top, thrice facing more than 100 deliveries in this series (and twice over 200).
Beyond the numbers, it’s an added bonus that both of them are so pleasing to the eye, exuding their own unique definitions of elegance. Both played a straight drive each on the third morning, and it made you wonder why the two had never been tried together before. It’s a pairing that could work well together in the future, further pushing back the chances of other candidates such as Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw. And, once Gill returns from injury, even the upcoming prodigy may have to wait is turn.