INDIA’S OPENING CONUNDRUM: WHO TAKES THE CREASE AT THE TOP DOWN UNDER?
ATUL KUMAR MAURYA | 6th January 2020
As the sun rises on the arrival of the new decade, Team India is looking forward to assert its dominance on the world stage in every format of the game. India, being 1st and 2nd in the ICC Test and ODI ratings respectively; the only missing piece of the jigsaw is their performance in the shortest format. Currently ranked 5th in the ICC T20 rankings, the Indians are all set to start the year against their subcontinental rivals, Sri Lanka in a 3-match T20 series. With the T20 World Cup hosted by Australia starting from October 18th in sight, India will be looking to strengthen all the departments of the team, with the first hurdle being the opening pair. Who gets chosen and who is resigned to the bench are questions that loom ahead of yet another year where India want to stamp their authority for the world to witness.
The first berth is as cemented as can be and is an easy choice. After Virat Kohli, the second confirmed name on the team sheet will be that of Rohit Sharma. The flamboyant batsman had a sublime 2019, where he carried the Men in Blue through the 50-over World Cup for India and that too single-handedly. The Mumbai Indians skipper was frighteningly consistent, almost usurping another one of Mumbai’s batting greats in Sachin Tendulkar’s record for the highest number of runs in a single edition of the tournament. The one stage where Rohit faltered, the Indian batting order embodied the domino effect in calamitous fashion.
Sharma has 2633 T20I runs, averaging 32.10 with a strike rate of 138.21. With an average of 25.86 in Australia, the Hitman doesn’t have an outstanding record. However, with him being in the form of his life, Rohit will still be the frontman of the team come the T20 World Cup.
The 2nd opening spot is where the trouble begins for India. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma has been the go-to duo for the country since 2013. The pair average 33.51 in 52 innings when they have stepped onto the pitch together.
Dhawan is the textbook elegant left-handed batsman, piercing every loose ball through the off-side, giving us glimpses of the original king of the off-side, Sourav Ganguly. Dhawan started the 50-over World Cup in England in sublime form, scoring a hundred in the second match against Australia. Unfortunately, he fractured his thumb in the same game and was ruled out of the tournament.
Enter, KL Rahul. Rahul joined forces with Rohit and they both whacked almost every opponent they played against in the tournament. Since then, Rahul and Rohit have been the new duo for the country, averaging 55.62 in the 8 T20I innings they have opened together. KL Rahul hasn’t looked back since joining the top spot with Rohit.
Table 1: T20I stats for the 3 batmen in contention for the opening spot
As Rohit has been rested for the Sri Lanka series, Dhawan and Rahul will be taking the crease for India. As the country prepares for the upcoming T20 World Cup, both the batsmen will be under immense pressure to cement their spot in the team in the build-up to the main event. Both batsmen bring their unique qualities at the top spot; while Dhawan’s role as the aggressor allows Sharma to play himself in, Rahul’s conservativeness means the Hitman can play his natural game and thrash bowlers to all corners of the park.
With the Delhi dynamo and the Karnataka talisman being two one-of-a-kind batsmen in their own right, the competition is fierce, yet healthy as only of them will make the final cut alongside India’s vice-captain. As numbers go, both of them have a sublime opening record partnering Rohit Sharma.
The Dhawan-Rohit duo has been brilliant in its heyday for India, but it has been the Rahul-Rohit duo which has been making all the noise since June 2019. Some would say that the left-right combination should be selected, others will back the weight of the displays the right-handed duo has produced till date. All in all, it is going to be a tough ask for the selectors.
Table 2: The partnership statistics for the duos in contention
Shikhar Dhawan-Rohit Sharma
KL Rahul- Rohit Sharma
The upcoming T20 World Cup will be hosted Down Under. Keeping this factor in mind, the selectors will look to select players that have succeeded in the testing Australian conditions. As none of the 3 batsmen in contention have a fairly great record in Australia, the selectors will have to look deep into their other international numbers and form to arrive to a decision that isn’t as poorly dealt with as the No.4 dilemma that haunted the Indians till Shreyas Iyer’s ascendancy post-World Cup.
Shikhar Dhawan has a breathtaking record for India in ICC tournaments and has more experience of countering the trials and tribulations of the seemingly intimidating Australian conditions. On the other hand, KL Rahul has been in quite some form for a few months now. Both of them being equally electric in the field and having the ability to up the ante at will, the right partner for Rohit would have to do wonders for the country to solidify their spot.
With the Mumbai-born batsman almost guaranteed to deliver, an in-form KL Rahul or Shikhar Dhawan’s contribution could be paramount to such an extent that could orchestrate in repeating India’s heroics of 2007.
Table 3: T20I record in Australia
Before the T20 World Cup, India will certainly have sufficient time to test Dhawan and Rahul alongside Sharma against Sr Lanka and New Zealand in 3 and 5-match T20I series respectively.
As India prepare to battle for the cup again, both KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan will be looking to grab the second opening spot and the selectors will have to pick the right commander up top to partner Rohit Sharma and bring silverware back to the Men in Blue. Decisions, decisions.