England vs India: The opening conundrum
The moment when 'Dada' - Sourav Ganguly took off his jersey and vehemently waved it over his head after the Natwest series final win at Lord's in June 2002 still reverberates in the minds of the cricket fans. The fan frenzy and celebrations by the team after the victory clearly portrays the importance of winning in England against England. The overseas tours of India are closely monitored, especially the England tour. A mere thought of batting in England conditions against intimidating bowlers sends shivers down the spine of any batting lineup visiting England. Thus the preparation for such tours begin well in advance.
The much anticipated England tour of India is set to begin on 3rd of July this year. The sojourn includes three T20I, three ODIs, and five Tests. Squads for T20I and ODIs are announced and the team management, coach, and the captain would have loads to think as far as playing XI is concerned especially when it comes to deciding the opening combination. Openers in the limited overs squad include Rohit Sharma, Lokesh Rahul, and Shikhar Dhawan. To choose two out of the three extraordinary openers is as difficult as choosing a dish from a Michelin star chef's menu.
Let us wear the captain's hat and try solving this good-to-have conundrum.
Lokesh Rahul has been in sublime batting form since the last couple of months. He weaved magic in the latest edition of IPL with his exceptional batting skills. With 659 runs in 14 matches at an incredible average of 54.91, Rahul was the driving force in KXIP's batting lineup. His ravishing batting throughout the IPL season was a treat to watch.
The 'Gabbar' - Shikhar Dhawan too has been in a great run of form. The southpaw has been consistently hitting the ball from the meat of the bat scoring match-winning knocks at a brisk rate. Close to 200 runs in 5 matches in the Nidahas trophy followed by 497 runs 16 matches in IPL, Shikhar is in red-hot form. To add to that Dhawan scored a record-breaking century against Afghanistan in a historic Test match at the Chinnaswamy stadium in Bengaluru. He became the first Indian to score a century before lunch.
The Mumbai Indians skipper and perhaps the sweetest timer of the cricket ball Rohit Sharma like his team did not have a great IPL. Captaining the side, Rohit Sharma had a reasonably good Nidahas trophy with the bat as he scored two half-centuries. This was followed by IPL where his batting appeared a bit under par as he was able to accumulate just 286 runs in 14 matches albeit it should be noted that he batted in the middle order for most of the season.
Batting performance in England
Lokesh Rahul has not played Tests or ODIs in England but his sound technique and quick reflexes can earn him a place in the playing 11.
Shikhar Dhawan seems to have a liking for English conditions. He has scored a staggering 663 runs in 11 ODIs at an average of 73.67 in England. Two centuries and three half-centuries in 11 matches mean that Dhawan finds scoring in England as easy as twirling his mustache.
Rohit Sharma too has an outstanding record in England conditions. He has amassed 383 runs in 9 ODIs at an amazing average of over 50. He has scored 3 half centuries and a century in England.
A common weakness against the moving ball
Having dined at the high tables of International cricket Rohit Sharma's uncontrollable urge to feel the ball moving away from him has been disappointing.
Rahul too is tad tentative at the start and pokes at deliveries outside off. One may get away with such shots on subcontinental pitches but not in English conditions.
Shikhar Dhawan like any other left-hander in cricket absolutely loves playing square cuts and cover drives of the front foot. As soon as he spots a full-length delivery Dhawan's eyes lit up and he commits himself into the shot a bit early. But there are occasions when the ball jags back in sharply and Dhawan is plumb in front.
It would be a tough decision for captain Kohli and the team management even after taking the above factors into consideration as all three of them are world class batsmen and are in a great run of form. Horses for courses and left-hand right-hand combination are a couple of approaches that may assist in choosing two of the three.