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Is it time for Kohli to replace Dhawan as T20I opener?

With India's focus now shifting to the T20 World Cup, is it a smart option to have Virat Kohli open in T20Is instead of Shikhar Dhawan?

Saikat Banerjee
Last updated: 24.09.2019
Time for Kohli to replace Dhawan as T20I opener | Sports Social blog

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With the World Cup done and dusted, and India's focus now shifting to the T20 World Cup to be held in Australia late next year, they are set out to find their best pool of players. They are scheduled to play 25-30 games in the format in the build-up to the mega event Down Under in 2020.

Talking of the 50-over World Cup, India's biggest strength was their top three comprising of skipper Virat Kohli and openers Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan - all of them among the finest batsmen ever to play ODI cricket, not just for India but across all countries. In their preparation for the T20 World Cup, the initial talks have been regarding the same top three, whether they should do away with the incumbent top three who bat with the same tempo and should they reconsider their batting strategy at the top?




Where does Dhawan lie?


Dhawan in his 54 T20I appearances for India scored 1413 runs at an average of 27.70 and a strike rate of 129.87 with nine fifties while as an ODI opener batsman he has scored 5518 runs at 44.50 and strike rate of 94 with 17 centuries. It stat shows he is clearly not as good in T20s as he is in ODI. But Dhawan had an excellent 2018 in T20Is scoring 689 runs at 40.52 strike rate of 147.22 - the most by any player in the format in a single calendar year. He hit six fifties in 17 innings in 2018 compared to just three in 37 innings outside 2018. Barring 2018, in none of the other years, has Dhawan out-scored the rest of India's top six which suggests he has been a below-par batsman for the majority of his career in the shortest format.


Dhawan's strike rate of 134.50 improves only marginally to 142.90 after the field gets spread out. The non-Powerplay strike rates of Rohit and Rahul read 169.53 and 167.44 respectively - an increase in excess of 36 - compared to just around eight for Dhawan. Unlike Rohit and Rahul, Dhawan doesn't really step on the accelerator once he gets settled down in the Powerplay overs, as the strike rates post the first six overs testify.


Will India be better served if Kohli promotes himself to open?


Kohli has scored more runs, hit most fifties and averages more than anyone who played a substantial amount of games in the T20I format. Kohli has opened the batting five times in T20Is since April 2016, which came across three different series but with little success - 100 runs in five innings at 20.00. In the last seven years in the IPL, Kohli has scored 3773 runs from exactly 100 innings - he hit more runs and more hundreds than any other player in the tournament. Of the 100 innings he batted, 55 came as an opener where he scored 2245 runs at an average of 52.21 and a strike rate of 143.63. He crossed fifty in 20 of these knocks and all of his five three-figure scorers in IPL came as an opener.



Kohli has preferred to start his innings with the field up which has suited his style of play of picking the gaps initially to get going. In the 55 innings, he has opened the batting, Kohli has scored at 129 in the first six overs. He has been dismissed 21 times inside the Powerplay - which means out of the 34 instances he survived, he has scored 50-plus 20 times, underlining his ability to notch up big scores consistently when he gets off to a start. He strikes at 141 in the post-Powerplay overs, making him the perfect foil for the batsman at the other end to attack - be it Rohit whom he shares a great rapport while batting or the big hitters to follow like Rishabh Pant or the Pandya brothers. In an interview with the host broadcaster Star Sports ahead of the Mohali T20I, Kohli had hinted he is willing to bat wherever it suits the team best.


Where does that leave Rahul?


Rahul has struggled to find a place in the playing XI more often than not. Despite averaging 42 and scoring at 148 with two centuries in T20Is, Rahul has featured in only three out of the ten matches India played in 2019. This despite a splendid IPL 2019 where he finished with 593 runs at 53.90, only behind David Warner's 692 runs. Rahul has been one of India's consistent players in the T20 format since the start of IPL 2016. In 70 T20 appearances in this period, he has scored 2548 runs at an average of 48 and a strike rate of 147 runs per 100 balls including three centuries. 


Majority of these innings has come as an opener (48) but in the 17 innings he batted at number three and four, his numbers are a touch better as the table below reveals. He has scored two hundreds playing for India - 110* against West Indies in 2018 and 101* against England in 2018 came while batting at four and three respectively. While he has had good success as an opening batsman, the numbers show he does have the game to succeed in the middle order as well.


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