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Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have not been as prolific in recent times as they were in the earlier part of their opening partnership. India have selected Sanju Samson and Ajinkya Rahane in the One-Day International (ODI) squad for the series against England, both of whom have opened in the past. Shiamak Unwalla looks at whether India needs a new opening partnership in the shorter formats of the game.
When opening batsmen of the quality of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, and Gautam Gambhir have retired or are otherwise left out of the squad due to one reason or another, it usually causes a selection headache. However, the opening partnership of Rohit and Dhawan took over from the experienced openers in tremendous fashion to begin with in the Champions Trophy 2013.
In recent times though, the duo have not quite set the stage on fire. Since the ODI series in South Africa in 2013 the duo have added just a couple of fifty-plus stands for the opening wicket, without getting a century stand. Midway through the ICC World T20 in Bangladesh, Dhawan was replaced by Ajinkya Rahane in the playing XI. Rahane also did well as an opener in the three-match ODI series in Bangladesh that came just before India’s tour of England.
Meanwhile, Sanju Samson has slowly but surely entered the collective consciousness of Indian cricket fans, following some consistent performances in domestic cricket as well as the Indian Premier League (IPL). At the tender age of 20, Samson is already considered the flag-bearer of cricket in Kerala, and is widely regarded as one of the best young cricketers in the country. The fact that he was among India’s most successful batsmen in the recently-concluded Quadrangular A series Down Under has only added to his stock.
However, Samson and Rahane are both mainly middle-order batsmen. Though both players have opened — either for India or for the Rajasthan Royals in IPL — and have done well, they are not designated openers. What that says is that India still considers Dhawan and Rohit as their best opening combination.
With the ICC World Cup 2015 less than a year away, the patience of the selectors could be running out. It should be expected that in the coming months, the non-performers will miss out on a ticket to Australia. Likewise, players who keep giving a good account of themselves — such as Rahane and Samson — will inevitably get noticed by the selectors. If India do decide to give the pair an extended run at the top of the order, it could also mean that either of them could be India’s replacement openers.
Dhawan and Rohit were exceptional in England in the 2013 Champions Trophy — in many ways that was where their partnership truly began to flourish. They will be keen to get back to their old ways of scoring big runs at the top, and getting India off to flying starts. If they manage to do so in this series, it is likely that India will not need any replacement openers.
(Shiamak Unwalla is a reporter with Cricket Country. He is a self-confessed Sci-Fi geek and Cricket fanatic who likes to pass his free time by reading books, watching TV shows, and eating food. Sometimes all at the same time. You can follow him on twitter at @ShiamakUnwalla)
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