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Opening 'trio' makes merry against debutants Afghanistan

Aadya Sharma
FEATURED WRITER
Exclusive
320   //    14 Jun 2018, 21:20 IST

KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan
KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan

It takes two to tango, but three is a tangle.

The Indian management must feel this adage hitting them hard, whenever the trio of Shikhar Dhawan, Murali Vijay, and KL Rahul are all fit and available for selection. It's a problem of plenty that has haunted them in the past.

With Virat Kohli leaving a gaping hole in the middle-order due to his neck injury, the conundrum, albeit for the time being, was solved by slipping Rahul down the order against Afghanistan.

And the trio managed to make it count, scoring the bulk of India's runs on the opening day of the Bengaluru Test. It started with Dhawan's belligerence and was continued further by the combination of Vijay and Rahul.

Dhawan fires the opening salvo

86 years is what it took for an Indian to score a century before lunch on the first day of a Test, a simple statistic that goes to show the general approach of Indian openers against the new ball.

Virender Sehwag, the only other Indian opener who used to go ballistic against the brand new cherry, came very close in 2006, but his heir apparent bettered him, giving Afghanistan a stern introduction to Test cricket.

"When I saw the pitch in the morning, it was a bit damp and I knew it was going to help the seamers. I did my process and things went my way," Dhawan had said at the end of the day's play.

Inexperience dripped from the Afghan pacers, who sprayed the ball either short and wide for Dhawan to smack past covers, or on his pads, where he gleefully kept flicking them away.

He didn't let Rashid Khan settle down in his opening overs, using the vacant spaces in the field to punish him on either side of the wicket. He kept using his feet, advancing down the track to upset the spinners' rhythm.

Vijay and Rahul join in

Murali Vijay and KL Rahul have had contrasting months in the lead-up to the Afghanistan Tests - while Vijay played just a solitary game for the Chennai Super Kings this year, Rahul had a bumper time with the Kings XI Punjab, scoring 659 runs to finish with his most profitable season.

Vijay turns into a stonewaller in Tests. While he doesn't shy away from picking boundaries off looseners, he takes time to get going. And, having played only one competitive game in the last four months, he knew there was loads of work to be done.

It was all about getting into the groove.

The first ball itself was a sign of things to come - a shade of movement took his inside edge and ran off his pads, it was an unsure start, and Vijay had his moments of vulnerability thereafter, but he never let go of his guard. It was all purely characteristic.

With Dhawan unleashing his pyrotechnics at the other end, Vijay was content with playing second-fiddle, but once he got into his groove, the Monk didn't let his grip go loose.

He kept playing the medium-pacers on merit and used his crease to shuffle back and across against spinners, reading variations and predicting lengths with ease.

KL Rahul, shunted to No.3, seemed to be carrying his IPL form in his pocket. The drives and cuts, similar to his maneuvers in the IPL, were intact against the red ball as well, so was the dexterity off the pads. He was ready to grind and employ loose hands, plonking his foot forward or drawing himself back in his crease.

Is it enough for Rahul?

The decision to send Rahul at No.3 seemed to have worked well this time around, but what happens when Virat Kohli returns?

Vijay and Dhawan have made a strong case for themselves, and despite the latter's frailties against the moving ball abroad, he could be in for a run at the top.

Keeping this in mind, KL Rahul's inability to convert a start has been his biggest stumbling block.

Ever since his 199 against England at Chennai in 2016, KL Rahul has passed 50 in 10 of his last 19 innings (including today), but hasn't managed to get to three figures even once!

This includes an array of seven consecutive scores when he passed 50 but just couldn't go on to get a hundred.

Against Afghanistan on the opening day, he looked set on the crease and had made his way to 54 when a loose slash outside off resulted in an inside edge and slayed his own stumps.

Rahul is yet to play in England, it will be interesting to see how the team management solves the puzzle ahead of their impending Test series just a couple of months away.

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Aadya Sharma
FEATURED WRITER
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