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India's opening batting conundrum - 'The problem of plenty' is a good thing after all

Analysing India's Test team openers and the reasons why all the three - Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay and KL Rahul - should play in the same team.

Shikhar Dhawan Murali Vijay
Murali Vijay and Shikhar Dhawan are India’s fifth most successful opening pair

We Indians have a problem with everything, right? We are never satisfied with whatever we get. It’s either too much, too less or nothing at all. Well, it’s not that bad really. The current three Indian openers- M Vijay, S Dhawan and KL Rahul- have acted like three batch mates playing together making sure everyone gets a chance.

Dhawan,“ Vijay you opened last time. let me go have a bat with Rahul this time.”

Vijay, “I want partner Rahul, besides next match your favourite opponents are playing.”

Shikhar, “No… let’s make Rahul sit this one, he needs to start slow and steady.”

Vijay, “Fair enough.”

Rahul, “I can hear you both!”

Actually, Circumstances and fate have led to only two out of the three batsmen being ready to play at any point of time as of now. Bad form and supposedly suspect technique meant Dhawan was dropped in the Test series Down Under handing KL Rahul his debut while Illness ruled Rahul out of the one-off Test against Bangladesh, giving Dhawan another crack at the opener’s spot, one he grabbed with both hands. 

In the ongoing Test series against Sri Lanka, a hamstring pull accounted for Vijay in the first Test while Dhawan was kept out of the 2nd Test due to a wrist injury. The question arises as to what happens when all three are fit and claiming a spot in the Test side. 

To be fair, it would be hard and near impossible to drop Murli Vijay after his performance in the last two years. He has been that consistent. Dhawan and Rahul have also been scoring runs whenever they have got their opportunity. This is the conundrum the team will face when India play South Africa later this year. 

All three of Dhawan, Vijay and Rahul should play

Lokesh Rahul India Cricket
KL Rahul has scored two centuries in just four Test matches

The general notion is  that only two out of the three can open, but we need to see it from another perspective. Why can’t the three play in the same match? All three are in a good patch of form – Dhawan is finding his feet and dare I say, technique, Rahul is scoring a century every second match(okay, he has played only four matches) while Vijay is scoring runs in almost every match. 

Pujara sadly has to again prove himself. Sharma is always trying to prove himself. Suresh Raina is always saying that he needs to prove himself. If either of these three play well consistently and one of these three (Vijay, Dhawan and Rahul) don’t, that’s competition for you. But for now at least, the three should be given a chance to play in the same team based on recent performances.

How the Indian batting should line up and who should be dropped

Rohit Sharma India cricket
Rohit Sharma has got out in single digit scores six times in his last ten Test innings

The question is who bats where? Vijay should open while either of Dhawan or Rahul can open with the one missing out coming in at the No 5 spot.  Technique-wise Rahul should open and Dhawan should come down the order. We can also have a break in the monotony of right-handed batsmen in the middle order and Dhawan is experienced enough to guide the tail. This also allows India to get an opener in the middle order to tackle the second new ball. 

Rahul and Vijay will make a good opening pair. Neither of them is as aggressive as Dhawan, but they can blunt good attacks on more responsive and lively pitches. Dhawan has had his issues playing in the pitches in Australia and England where his bat-edge was a magnet for Jimmy Anderson’s outswinger and a move down the order will free him up from that prejudice which has, wrongly or rightly, come up.

The experiment of sending in Rahane at No 3 has paid off and having scored a century, he has earned the team’s trust to play at that spot for some time to come. Skipper Kohli will come in at No 4 and that means only one thing – Rohit Sharma will have to be dropped. 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a big fan of Rohit Sharma. He was given 100 ODIs to realize his potential, but the team can’t afford to give him 100 Tests for the same. The knock in the last Test match can’t hide his recent form – In his last 10 test innings, he has got out in single digits six times.

All this is based on a big Virat Kohli-sized ‘if’. True, the team dynamics will change significantly, but hopefully for the better. There will be an issue whether the three will be happy with this arrangement. But with the India vs South Africa series coming up soon, and other batsmen looking to stake their claim,  Dhawan, Vijay and Rahul must adapt as once they all are fit. At least it's a problem of plenty.

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