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Explained: Shikhar Dhawan or KL Rahul, who should open with Rohit Sharma?

India vs England T20I series: Perhaps rotating Rohit Sharma, KL Rahul, and Shikhar Dhawan at the top of the order against England could make sense ahead of the World T20 in October.

Written by Vishal Menon , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 12, 2021 7:42:32 am
India will play England in a 5-match T20 series beginning March 12, at the Narendra Modi stadium in Gujarat. File Photo

Who will open with Rohit Sharma: Shikhar Dhawan or KL Rahul? This is a vital selection issue that Virat Kohli will have to address during the 5-match T20 series against England.

Dhawan and Rahul were openers for the T20-leg of the Australian tour last year since Rohit was out nursing a hamstring injury. Now that India’s vice-captain is fit and in sparkling form with the bat, he automatically makes the cut at the top of the order.

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What does KL Rahul bring to the table as an opener?

Simply put, his explosive big-hitting. Over the last 18 months, Rahul has been India’s most prolific batsmen in the shortest format. He was the Orange Cap holder in IPL 2020 — stacking up 670 runs from 14 games. Since July 2019, he has amassed 663 runs from 17 T20 innings, with seven 50s to his tally, outscoring Dhawan, who could muster 359 runs from 13 innings during this period.

More than the runs, it’s Rahul’s strike-rate that stands out — an impressive 140 —-which is far superior to Dhawan’s not-so-flattering 120.88. Teaming up with Rohit, they score at an impressive average of over 50, while maintaining a robust run-rate of a shade under 10.

Going by these numbers alone, Rahul should make it to the team-sheet in all the five games against England.

Does this mean that Shikhar Dhawan is out of the reckoning?

While there’s little doubt about Rahul’s prowess in white-ball cricket in recent times, Dhawan career strike-rate of 128, more than his runs, stands out.

Dhawan, unlike Rahul takes time to get into his groove, and tends to be circumspect against spinners in Powerplay. Nevertheless, the 35-year-old, like Rahul, did enjoy a prolific run in the last IPL, plundering 617 runs for the Delhi Capitals with back-to-back centuries.

Having him as an opener gives this team the much-needed variety of having a left-hander in the top 5 that consists of right-handers — Rohit, Kohli, Shreyas Iyer and Hardik Pandya.

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Is there room to accommodate both Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul in the playing XI?

In such a scenario, Rahul will have to drop to the No. 4 spot, and the axe may fall on Iyer — or Suryakumar Yadav’s wait to get into the playing XI may become longer. However, this move could be counterproductive for a few reasons.

On current form, Rahul is by far India’s best T20 batsman, and sending him down the order would mean that the team will miss out on the impetus and pyrotechnics that he provides upfront. In a frenetic T20 game that has only 120 deliveries per innings, it’s imperative that the best batsman in the team gets to face the maximum number of deliveries.

Also, this could end up shattering the confidence of Iyer, who has just settled into the role of a No. 4 batsman.

So, is rotation of players the way forward?

It seems to be a pragmatic approach, considering India will hardly play any more T20s in the run-up to the World T20, which is scheduled in India in October this year.

This series assumes significance because it will serve as an ideal preparatory ground ahead of the showpiece ICC event. Therefore, rotating Sharma, Rahul, and Dhawan at the top of the order against England could make sense.

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