One of the main contributors of India’s impressive performance so far is the kind of starts the new opening pair of KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma are providing for the team. They are India’s top scorers so far in the series, with Rahul accumulating 244 runs in 4 innings, which includes a hundred and a fifty, while Rohit has 152 runs, with the help of a fifty.
KL Rahul in fact was not a designated opener. He was in fact the third choice opener and was given the responsibility only after Shubman Gill was ruled out of the series with a shin stress fracture and Mayank Agarwal picked up a concussion in training, ahead of the first Test. And Rahul has grabbed that opportunity with both hands. The first Test vs England was his first Test outing in almost two years.
The current series is one of the rare exceptions when both India openers are doing exceedingly well in English conditions. Till date, only nine India openers have scored runs at an average of 40 or more in England, including Rahul and Sharma, and very rarely have both openers performed well together as a pair.
The following are the top five most successful India openers in Tests in England:
Sunil Gavaskar (1152 runs)
One of the best Test openers of all time, Sunil Gavaskar has scored more than a thousand Test runs against England in England. From 1971 to 1986, Gavaskar was part of the Indian team in five away series against England and scored 1152 runs in 15 Tests. He scored those runs at an average of 41.14 in 28 innings, smashing two hundreds and eight fifties with a highest score of 221 at The Oval.
Gavaskar’s best series in England was in 1979, when he accumulated 542 runs in seven innings at an impressive average of 77.42, which included a double century (221) and four fifties.
He also put on good opening stands with Chetan Chauhan in the series, which included a 213-run partnership in the fourth Test and a 124-run stand in the first Test.
Vijay Merchant (527 runs)
In two series, ten years apart, Vijay Merchant scored 527 runs against the English in their backyard. Merchant scored the runs at an impressive average of 47.90 in 11 innings, which included two hundreds and two fifties. His best score of 128 was scored at The Oval in 1946.
After scoring 282 in six innings in his first English tour in 1936, Merchant came back a decade later in 1946 to score another 245 runs in five innings. It made him one of the few Indian batsmen to have two successful tours of England.
India though lost both the three-match series – 0-2 in 1936 and 0-1 in 1946.
KL Rahul (526 runs)
When the current series began, KL Rahul was called a ‘reluctant’ opener as he was promoted to the opening slot after injuries to young Shubman Gill and Mayank Agarwal. But many forget that in the last tour to England in 2018, Rahul had a decent outing as an opener. He scored 282 runs in 8 innings as an opener which included a 149 in the second innings of the fifth and final Test at The Oval in 2018.
And with 244 runs in the first two Tests in the current series, Rahul has taken his total runs as an Indian opener in England to 526 – just 1 run behind the great Vijay Merchant.
Rahul has accumulated his runs at an average of 43.83 in 12 innings, with the help of two hundreds and a fifty. And India’s chances of winning this series will depend a lot on him continuing his excellent form at the top of the order.
Murali Vijay (428 runs)
Murali Vijay had a solid maiden tour of England in 2014, scoring 402 runs in five Test matches. He scored a hundred and two fifties in 10 innings, scoring his runs at a more than decent 40.20 average. He even started the series with a majestic 146 in the first innings of the first Test in 2014.
But his second tour, in 2018, did not work out well for him. Vijay opened the innings in the first two Tests, before losing his spot to KL Rahul. In the four innings he batted in the series, Vijay managed to score just 26 runs.
Overall, he is still in fourth place on this list with 428 runs in 14 innings, which includes one hundred and two fifties. His overall Test runs in England have been scored at an average of 30.57.
Ravi Shastri (402 runs)
Current India head coach Ravi Shastri is in fifth place on this list, with 402 runs in 8 innings. He scored these runs in Tests played vs England in England, at an impressive average of 50.25, which is incidentally the best on this list. He scored two centuries and a fifty in the five Test matches he played in England.
Unlike Vijay, Shastri had a forgettable maiden tour to England, which was in 1982. He managed to score just 66 runs in three innings, which included two ducks as an opener.
But Shastri made up for that with a brilliant outing on the 1990 tour, when he scored 336 runs in five innings at an outstanding average of 67.20. Shastri smashed two centuries in that series, including a man-of-the-match winning performance of 187 in the third Test at The Oval.