Shikhar Dhawan (left) and Rohit Sharma struggled to score freely in South Africa as well as in New Zealand © Getty Images
By Sudatta Mukherjee
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan came together as an opening combination during ICC Champions Trophy 2013 and made a big splash instantly. They unquestionably raised visions of being worthy successors to the Virender Sehwag-Gautam Gambhir tandem. However, since the start of the tour of South Africa, their slump is copious cause for worry to the team, which has been denied the platform that is expected from openers.
India is left with five One-Day International (ODI) series before the ICC World Cup 2015. They play the Asia Cup, Bangladesh, West Indies, England, and have a tri-series involving Australia and England. One cannot read too much into the series against Bangladesh and West Indies as they will be played in the Indian sub-continent, where conditions will be far different from that in Australia. The real test will come when they play against Australia and England.
If India have to make any changes at the top, they should do it now before they play against Bangladesh and West Indies.
Dhawan’s last five One-Day International (ODI) scores read: 119, 12, 0, 32 and 12. The 119 came at Nagpur against a weak West Indies. Rohit’s last six ODI scores read: 12, four, 18, 19, three, and 20.
Even Mahendra Singh Dhoni has expressed his concern about the underperforming Indian opening pair. After the second ODI against New Zealand, Dhoni said at the presser, “When it comes to our openers, they fought out the first 10 overs, but I felt that it was very important they could have carried on for another 10-15 overs so that from the 22nd or 25th over onwards, we should have started to hit out, but it does not always go according to plan.”
After being No 1 in ODIs for almost a year, consecutive defeats have seen India lose the top ranking to Australia. However, they can win it back if Australia loses the remaining two ODIs to England and India win 3-2 against New Zealand.
The question now is: Who will replace the openers? Even one of the two between Rohit and Dhawan? The best choice is Gautam Gambhir, who has performed well in the domestic cricket. Gambhir’s experience will also be handy in a team full of raw youngsters.
The other option could be Ajinkya Rahane, who has been an opening bat for Mumbai in the domestic circuit and for most part of his career. He has also been treated as a default opener by his Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise, Rajasthan Royals. For both Mumbai Indians and Rajasthan Royals, Rahane has flourished in that position. In the last two editions of the IPL, he has accumulated 1048 runs at a brilliant average of 34.85, comprising four fifties — all this at a strike rate of over 100.
With Dhawan and Rohit looking the part for most part of the last year or so and Yuvraj Singh not being able to cement the No 4 slot since returning from fitness issues, Rahane got a chance to prove his class in the middle order. He looked good and timed the ball quite well during his 36 off 42 balls in the second ODI against the Kiwis, but the Indian think-tank will be aware of the fact that his talent can be used at the top of the order as well.
With the World Cup just a year away, India would ideally like too much experimentation with the critical opening slots. And if they must, they should bring back the experienced Gambhir or a groom Rahane for that role. Dhoni, as we know, doesn’t like to shuffle too much with his teams, and may look towards Rahane as an opener — but only in dire situations.
But even the Indian captain will find it extremely difficult to keep shutting the door on Gambhir, if Dhawan and Rohit fail to arrest their slump.
The next three ODIs will shed some light on the same subject, and so will the upcoming Asia Cup and other overseas series ahead.
Sudatta Mukherjee is a reporter with CricketCountry. Other than writing on cricket, she spends penning random thoughts on her blog and produces weekly posts on new food joints at Whopping Weekends. She played Table Tennis for University of Calcutta. When she is not writing, you will catch her at a movie theatre or watching some English serial on her laptop. Her Twitter id is @blackrosegal)