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Sri Lanka v India

India’s opening options for the Sri Lanka ODIs: Who should partner Dhawan at the top?

Sri Lanka India ODI
by Wisden Staff 4 minute read

India’s white-ball tour to Sri Lanka will be a chance to impress for some, and a road to redemption for others — here’s a look at the possible opening options at the team’s disposal.

Skipper Shikhar Dhawan will rightfully occupy one of the opening spots for the three-match ODI series, leaving the other one for the youngsters to take up. The squad named is a 24-member unit for both ODIs and T20Is, with no clarity yet if it would be bifurcated into smaller groups for each format.

With the T20I series to follow soon after, the team will have a total of six games to move their combination around during their stay in the Island Nation. That said, there might be too much chopping and changing too, as hinted by coach Rahul Dravid during the pre-departure press conference when he said it’ll be “unrealistic to give everyone an opportunity” and that the priority was “winning the series”.

With the first ODI set to begin on July 13, we take a look at the opening options in the side apart from Shikhar Dhawan.

The stats mentioned are List A numbers.

First choice

Prithvi Shaw

41 matches, 2,221 runs @ 58.18, 8 100s, HS: 227*

It’s the logical step and Shaw’s comeback vehicle into the main team. Hard done by selectors after the Australia tour, Shaw has done enough and more to merit a spot, first setting ablaze the Vijay Hazare List A trophy (827 runs @ 165.40, four centuries, HS: 227*), and continuing the fluent touch in the first half of IPL (308 runs @ 38.50, three fifties). At Delhi Capitals, Shaw partners Dhawan at the top of the order, and the left-right combination looks as good as any combination in the competition. Besides, Shaw already carries some international experience, also playing three ODIs back in 2019,

Devdutt Padikkal

20 matches, 1,387 runs @ 86.68, 6 100s, HS: 152

If not Shaw, then Padikkal. Much like Shaw, Padikkal was in golden form during the Vijay Hazare Trophy (737 runs @ 147.40, four centuries), and smashed a 52-ball century right before the IPL was suspended. His strokeplay on both sides of the wicket is glorious, and even at 20, he’s deftly handled international bowlers under IPL captain Virat Kohli. There’s purpose in his batting, and this could be a great opportunity for the left-hander to be exposed to the feel of international cricket.

Next best

Ruturaj Gaikwad

59 matches, 2,681 runs @ 47.87, 7 100s, HS: 187*

Those following the IPL have seen the best and worst of Gaikwad, who’s still yet to completely showcase his consistency in the competition. In List A cricket, though, the 24-year-old is right up there with the best prospects and is a serious contender when building the team for the future. A solid batsman who doesn’t shy away from taking on bowlers, Gaikwad has been featuring in List A cricket for over four years, often travelling with the India A team on preparatory tours. On the A tour to New Zealand last year, he opened the batting with Shaw and scored an unbeaten 187 for the A team against Sri Lanka in 2019.

Outside bet

Ishan Kishan

77 matches, 2,549 runs @ 36.49, 4 100s, HS: 173

Kishan started in the middle order but has now progressed to facing the new ball often, lighting up the powerplays with his intent-filled batting. Kishan has a shot for every delivery but has suffered to find consistency for long periods in his game, an issue that has kept him away from international cricket. Now already a T20I player, Kishan will be aiming for his next target, ODI cricket, with the Sri Lanka series being the right setting to make that transition. He opens in List A cricket for Jharkhand, and trying him up top for the sake of experimentation won’t be a bad call entirely.

Also there

Nitish Rana

58 matches, 1,940 runs @ 41.27, 3 100s, HS: 137

Perhaps the most experienced of the lot, this is the closest Rana has got to the India jersey after featuring in List A cricket for the last eight years. Though experienced, Rana has a better chance to find a place in the middle order given the form of the first three, but can always be called on to fill a place up top if needed, given his stints opening the batting in the IPL. In the 2020/21 Vijay Hazare Trophy, Rana’s averaged stood at 66.23 with a century and two fifties.

Sanju Samson

95 matches, 2,445 runs @ 30.56, 1 100, HS: 212*

The least likely of the lot, Samson has hardly opened in List A cricket, and the likelihood of him doing so in Sri Lanka is also fairly minimal. Samson has spent years serving the India ‘A’ sides but has managed just seven T20Is in the last six years, six of which came in 2020. One of the more established names in the squad, Samson is likely to finally break into the ODI XI, but will most likely occupy the No.4 or No.5 spot, unless the side wants to try out his breezy, uncomplicated gameplay at the top, or injuries necessitate a change.

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