Rohit Sharma is set to open the batting for India in the Test series against South Africa. KL Rahul was dropped after a prolonged slump in form in Test cricket. Although opinions are divided in Test cricket about Rohit Sharma’s elevation as the opener, it’s not the first or the last time a batsman has been forced to open the batting in Tests.
In fact, Indian cricket history is rich with instances when they have opted for numerous makeshift openers. Cricwizz takes a look at five cricketers who found success after being asked to open in Tests.
Jayasuriya ended his career as a big-hitting opener across all formats. But the first half of his international career, he was a slow left-arm bowler who could bat a bit. It was 4 years after making his debut that he first opened the batting for Sri Lanka in ODI cricket.
The then Sri Lankan skipper Arjuna Ranatunga gave him the liberty to go after the bowling as 1996 World Cup loomed large. And Jayasuriya unleashed his talent, making a mockery of bowling attack across the cricketing world.
His success in ODIs saw him being relegated as an opener in Tests. And he made the position his own till he retired. He scored 5932 runs with 13 tons and 25 fifties in 95 Tests. Overall, he scored 6973 runs with 14 tons and 31 fifties in 110 Tests. He also scored a triple ton in Test cricket.
Sehwag made his debut as a middle-order batsman in Test cricket. He even struck a ton on Test debut against South Africa in 2001. But there was just no room in middle-order with Sourav Ganguly, VVS Laxman occupying the slots. The only space available was at the top where India were struggling to find stable openers. Sehwag had never opened before in first-class cricket before.
But he took the challenge and then the rest is history. He destroyed the opposition with his attacking batting style. He made Test cricket entertaining with his carefree attitude and big-hitting at the top. He went on to become one of the best openers in Test cricket, hitting a record two triple tons. He, in fact, redefined the art of opening in Test cricket. Sehwag slammed 23 tons in his 104-Test career.
The Australian all-rounder batted as low as No 7 during the initial years in Test cricket. He was asked to open during the 2009 Ashes in England with another makeshift opener in Simon Katich. He enjoyed a better batting average as an opener (41.79) than his career batting average of 35.19.
He managed to play 27 Tests as opener, scoring 2006 runs with 2 tons and 15 fifties. Watson and Katich formed a consistent pair as the opener, but not so devastating as Justin Langer-Mathew Hayden. With time, the two fizzled out, but Watson enjoyed his best batting career in Tests as an opener. Overall, Watson scored 3731 runs with 4 tons and 24 fifties in 59 Tests.
The all-rounder found a place in the top order in limited-overs cricket after Herschelle Gibbs was omitted due to loss of form. He found success as an opener in limited-overs cricket before he was asked to open the innings in the five-day format for the first time in the Test series against India in 2004.
He responded to the challenge with a dogged 163 at Kanpur. He took 454 balls for his 163, hitting 17 fours. His ton helped SA to draw the match. He managed 1 ton and 1 fifty as an opener in 4 Tests. He played 21 Tests, scoring 760 runs with 1 ton and 3 fifties.
The legend who became famous after striking ton as the Test opener
Laxman started his career as a middle-order batsman, but he flattered to deceive. In the first three years of his international career, Laxman played 8 Tests, scoring just 4 fifties. India persisted with him and gambled on him as an opener. But he failed to do justice to his abundant talent until the Sydney Test against Australia in 2000.
India were staring at a 3-0 whitewash, trailing Australia by 402 runs in the third Test at Sydney in 2000. In the second innings, opener Laxman threw caution to the wind and unleashed his vast array of strokes, racing to a record 167 off 198 balls with 27 fours, in India’s 2nd innings score of 261.
India felt they have finally resolved their woes with an able opener in Laxman, but his inconsistencies at the top came to haunt him. He was moved down to the middle-order where he had a successful Test career. But his 167 continues to be one of the best knocks by an opener in Test cricket.