India's opening dilemma

India's opening dilemma

With Abhinav and Dhawan hitting form, Kohli has a tough decision to make

India's opening dilemma
The irony of India’s opening conundrum in their last two visits to Sri Lanka wouldn’t have lost on anyone.

When they toured this country last time in 2015, they had run out of specialist openers by the time they were ready for the third Test. Cheteshwar Pujara, an out-and-out middle-order batsman, had to step into the role alongside KL Rahul with other regular openers Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan out of reckoning due to different injuries. To their good fortune, Pujara became only the third Indian batsman to carry the bat with a sublime century to temporarily fix the problem.

On this tour, where India are already 1-0 up in the three-Test series following their crushing 304-run win here on Saturday, they are faced with another “tricky” situation, but the one about which Virat Kohli wasn’t too unhappy. Having replaced the injured Vijay in the 15-member squad just before India were to leave for Lanka, Dhawan became trifle lucky when he not only got to play in the XI in the first Test with Rahul down with viral fever, but also stroked his way to a dazzling 190 to stake his claim for the second Test too. His opening partner, Abhinav Mukund, after a first-innings failure, did his cause no harm either with a fluent 81 in India’s second innings.

With Rahul now having completely recovered from his illness, he should be the first-choice for the second Test at SSC, Colombo beginning August 3. The Karnataka batsman, who had six fifties in seven innings during the home series against Australia before the shoulder injury and the subsequent operation kept him away from action for almost six months, betrayed few signs of nerves or rustiness upon his return to competitive game. His stroke-filled 52 in the practice game in Colombo would have only enhanced the team management’s faith in the right-hander.  

While Rahul is almost certain to walk-in, the issue at hand for the team’s think-tank is -- who among Dhawan and Abhinav should it leave out from the final XI? Of course, you can’t ignore Dhawan’s sparkling innings, which fetched him the man of the match award, but the fact remains that Abhinav was the first-choice opener in the original squad. And his batting in the second dig to go with his excellent show in the close-in field, has underlined his utility as well.      
     
It’s a catch-22 situation but skipper Kohli said he would rather prefer to have multiple options at hand than not having any option at all. “Yes, it's a very tricky situation,” Kohli said while admitting that Dhawan-Abhinav performance has complicated his selection job for the second Test. “We've got a fourth guy (Vijay) who's a regular opener for India who's not fit. We've got all four openers firing now. Shikhar was supposed to go to Melbourne, now he's got a 190 in Galle.
 
So, anything can happen in life. Let's see how we decide on these things in the next three days. It's going to be tough but it's something that any day you'd like to be in this situation rather than having guys that are not scoring. I'm happy for both these guys who've done well. KL (Rahul) is obviously a champion player as well, so we'll have to eventually take a call on who plays in the next Test and I'm sure the third guy will understand whatever the call is taken by the team,” he offered.

While it may be great news for India to have multiple openers firing at the same time, they would do well to have some equally good stands at the top of the order. The performance of the Indian openers in the last five series plus the first Test here against Sri Lanka, hasn’t been encouraging. Together, they have accumulated 908 runs in the last 28 innings, stretching from the series against the West Indies, at an average of just over 32 runs with one centuryassociation (152 against England in Chennai) and four other fifty-plus stands. This is an area, which India would want to address urgently.

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