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Woes At The Top Are Yet To Be Settled For Team India

February 6, 2017

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Cut back to 2013 when India were involved in a bilateral series with England at home. Ajinkya Rahane in that series opened the innings in the first 3 games scoring 47, 4 and a duck. In the next match Rohit Sharma was asked to open by then skipper M.S Dhoni and he scored 83 enjoying a successful first stint as an opener. That innings had a big importance in the upcoming context as the Mumbai man paired with Shikhar Dhawan to help India clinch the ICC Champions Trophy.

Here also we have a similar scenario in hand. India have just won a pair of limited over series against England. 5 months from now and they will fly to England for the Champions Trophy. And very much like 4 years ago BCCI has again forgotten to schedule any more ODI matches in between.

However, not everything has remained the same. Last time when India headed England for the Champions Trophy they had so many seniors rested. Dhoni, the former skipper was clear with his thinking that he wanted fit players in the team only. Not many at that stage would fancy India to run the riot in that way. This time, in contrast, the men in blues will be stepping into the tournament as the title holders and will be kept in the strong contention for the championship. Rohit Sharma, playing his first big tournament as an opener at that time, has transformed himself into a monster of ODIs. Whereas Shikhar Dhawan, who didn’t seem to have put a single step wrong at that point of time, is struggling to find his feet at the moment. Other openers have also spilled their chances as well, which in many ways has raised the quandary for the team management and the new captain – who will partner Rohit Sharma at the top?

Currently India have 3 first choice fit openers – Dhawan, Rahane and KL Rahul. On the evidence of the England series, none of them is in form. Considering Rohit as an obvious choice for the opening slot, the question is whom to select and whom to leave behind. Dig a little deeper in this regard and an uncomfortable picture for Team India emerges.

Let’s start with KL Rahul. Never mind his lack of runs or even the horrible shot selection at times he still probably remains one who can breathe a momentary sigh of relief owing to the fact that he is relatively new to the limited-over outfit. Although he is a part of the national set-up from 2014-15, that is for good 2 years now; but given that he hardly made any waves in the shorter format before the last IPL, it would be unfair to mix up the formats in order to judge him. It is not to forget Rahul had a dream ODI debut in Zimbabwe, thanks to his prolonged run of good IPL form. But dealing with top quality bowlers across the best teams in the world, and that too in English conditions would be a daunting challenge. There’s also no denying that he is a long term prospect. So it puts both Dhawan and Rahane under the scanner.

To be honest, Shikhar Dhawan has always played with a sword perennially hanging over his head except when he re-arrived in 2013. With that blistering test hundred on debut followed by his blazing show in the Champions Trophy had set the tone wonderfully for him. But it has never been the same again. Although his numbers are still not bad at all with an average close to 43, yet his performance has been in secular decline. Since ICC Cricket World Cup 2015 Dhawan averages only 25 in the games where the series had not been settled. In this period his scores of 75 and 78 against Bangladesh and Australia respectively came when India had already lost the series, while his only hundred just over a year ago ended up is a losing cause. It is not to say that he is always playing for his position, but the aforesaid stats make one thing clear that he takes a lot of time to get accustomed to the opponent and adapt to the conditions.

So does this enhance the chances for Rahane? Well, not quite I guess. Because Kohli wants to back his men and believes that if they are given the confidence that settlement to get the things going would not be far. Whatever the reasons are, more chances for Rahul and Dhawan will surely push Rahane’s ODI spot towards the edge. On evidence of both New Zealand and England series, the team management no longer considers him as a middle-order option, but could he still be a second or a third choice at the top-order? He possibly could have been the one. And that’s where I feel he has made a huge mess of that New Zealand series. Throughout his career he has never been allowed to settle down as an opener. The chances came his way because someone else had got injured. Unlike so Rahane opened in five consecutive games against the Kiwis for just 143 runs with an average well under 30.  Now was that a coincidence that he was not picked for the T20 series against England or his place in the shortest format is already out of contention? Whatever it is, but he simply can’t afford his limited over blemishes to diminish his marvelous test run. England series definitely showed some signs of warning in this regard that he must take seriously.

Much like 4 years ago, it’s a confusing mix of picking an opener out of the three to partner Rohit, who is striving to get back on the cricket pitch following the thigh surgery he had in late 2016. Dhoni, back in 2013, under the similar circumstances as present did not only look at the big picture of Champions Trophy, but also foresaw Rohit doing the job for him in the 2015 World Cup. This time it’s up to Kohli to make a call and invest on someone considering the 2019 World Cup. As far as my thoughts are concerned, Virat could do favours to his fellow RCB teammate, just as Mahi did to Hitman.

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From → Cricket, ODI, Sports

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