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Six openers, three years: How India’s opening merry-go-round is harming their T20 chances

India opening pair
Rupin Kale by Rupin Kale 5 minute read

Rupin Kale looks at the different batting combinations India have tried in the opening slots over the last three years.

While India are the No.2 T20I team in the world right now, their constant changes at the top of the order might hinder them before long. With the T20 World Cup at home fast approaching, getting their opening combination right should be India’s top priority.

Let’s take a look at the conundrum they face at the moment.

Opening pairs tried by India since January 2018

KL Rahul and Rohit Sharma 

Eight innings, 323 runs at 40.37

This is the pair Virat Kohli has confirmed as India’s first-choice opening combination. However, due to the injury and resting of Rohit Sharma, the pair have played together just once in India’s last eight T20Is. Additionally, in five innings at home, they’ve crossed 50 partnership runs just once – a massive 135-run stand against West Indies in Mumbai in 2019. Their run-rate is the best among the lot, at 9.27 runs per over.

While Rohit is likely to be one of the first names on India’s team sheet for the T20 World Cup later this year, Rahul’s form has dipped. The right-hander has scored just one run in his last four T20I innings. But could this be in part down to a chopping and changing of partners?

Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan

27 innings, 981 runs at 36.33

India’s proven pair in ODI cricket, Rohit and Dhawan have also opened for India in T20I cricket most frequently in the last three years. Since 2018, they’ve added 981 runs as a pair, including three century and four half-century stands. Dhawan, however, has now been relegated to the reserve opener spot and was omitted again after a 12-ball four in the first T20I against England.

Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul

Eight innings, 308 runs at 38.5

With Dhawan coming in as a replacement for Rohit whenever called upon, he’s teamed up with Rahul quite a few times in the last few years. The duo have four fifty-plus stands in their last eight innings – a decent return. However, their run-rate is 7.89 since 2018 – the second-lowest among pairs who have opened more than once.

KL Rahul and Sanju Samson

Two innings, 22 runs at 11

While many argue that Sanju Samson hasn’t been managed well by India, his numbers in T20I cricket haven’t been earth-shattering so far. He hasn’t crossed 25 runs in an innings, with even a promotion at the top of the order not changing his fortunes. He was dismissed for scores of 15 and 10 when opening with Rahul in New Zealand last year.

Unless Samson has a blistering season as the Rajasthan Royals skipper in the IPL this year, the chances of him making the 2021 T20 World Cup squad are bleak.

Virat Kohli and KL Rahul

One innings, 22 runs

While Kohli’s record as an opener for Royal Challengers Bangalore is quite strong, he hasn’t been great at the top of the order for India. He’s opened just once since 2018, where he scored 9 off 8 balls against Ireland in Belfast. He has just one fifty as a T20I opener and it’s unlikely that he’ll move to the top of the order on a long-term basis.

Ishan Kishan and KL Rahul

One innings, 0 runs

With Ishan Kishan smashing a sensational half-century on his India debut, Dhawan’s reserve opener spot might also slip away soon. While Rahul was dismissed early in the second T20I, Kishan was excellent at the other end. The youngster notched up a 32-ball 56 at the top of the order.

If, along with his current form, he has another excellent IPL for Mumbai this year, he is likely to pose a serious question to the Indian selectors ahead of the World Cup.

Do India have an issue at the top of the order?

It feels as if the constant swapping at the top of the order has led to a lack of stability and understanding among their openers. In their last five T20I series, India have tried five different opening combinations. Additionally, they’ve had three different pairs at the top of the order in the three T20Is against England so far.

While injuries have made some chopping and changing unavoidable, India have also willingly made adjustments. For instance, Kishan, who was exceptional at the top of the order in the second T20I, was pushed to No.3 to accommodate Rohit in the next game.

Apart from Rohit Sharma and Gautam Gambhir, no opening partnership has averaged over 40 for India at the T20 World Cup. In the 2007 edition, the only time they have won the tournament, Gambhir and Virender Sehwag averaged 54.80 and opened in five out of six games in the competition.

And that’s what India need right now – stability, clarity and familiarity at the top of the order. Sticking to one pair and giving them an extended run before the T20 World Cup, which is less than six months away, could be crucial. Availability concerns have halted India’s search for a steady pair in the recent past, but now, with all their first-choice options at their disposal, it’s high time the team lands on one preferred pair, and sticks with them too.

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