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World Cup: The opening conundrum

A major factor for success of Indian cricket team in ICC tournaments has been the opening pair of Rohit-Dhawan

AG
Last updated: 13.03.2019
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan batting

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One of the major factors of India's dominance in the ODI format over the last 5-6 years has been it’s a devastating opening combination, Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan. They form the 4th most successful opening partnership in the history of the game, with 4526 runs 100 innings at an average of 45.71. To go along with that, they also have 15 century stands and 13 half century stands. Their game and style of play allow them to compliment each other well and also not compromise on their individual performances. Another feature which gives them an edge is their left hand-right hand combination which does not allow bowlers to settle on a line and length easily. Dhawan usually goes ballistic from the get go, while Rohit takes his time to get his eye in and then cash on. This recipe has worked successfully so far.

Let’s talk about their numbers in ICC ODI tournaments. Sharma and Dhawan are the second most successful opening pair in ICC ODI tournaments, only behind the legendary pair of Gilchrist and Hayden. They have together put on 947 runs in 14 innings at an average of 67.64, with 4 century stands and 4 half century stands. India’s consistent run in ICC tournaments in this decade has to be attributed to the fact that their top 3 does the job more often than not.

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Now let us take a look at a couple of alternatives for the opening spot. Since 2013, only Ajinkya Rahane and KL Rahul have played 7 or more matches opening the batting for India. Rahane has a decent record as an opener, with 1533 runs in 38 matches at an average of 41.43 including 3 centuries and 13 half centuries. Rahane's pitfall lies in the fact that his strike rate of 78.53 is unsuitable for the modern game. To make things worse, his uninspired attacking game doesn’t allow him to accelerate once he’s set, a template we’ve watched Rohit execute extremely well. KL Rahul, on the other hand, has all the ingredients to be an all format batsman. He can attack and take advantage of the powerplay and also stabilise the innings when needed. He has played 7 matches as an opener, scoring 280 games at an average of 56. However, he has failed to make the most of his chances when playing against good quality sides. In matches played against Australia, England and Sri Lanka, he has a meagre 24 runs in 3 matches at a paltry average of 8. Although admittedly, it’s a small sample size to draw a conclusion, it’s hard to justify selecting him over Sharma or Dhawan. His recent terrible slump in form has made his case worse.

Here’s a review of the various opening combinations for India in this decade :

Opening Combination

Matches

Runs

Average

100s

50s

Sharma-Dhawan

100

4526

45.71

15

13

Dhawan-Rahane

18

1153

64.05

5

3

Sharma-Rahane

13

604

46.46

3

0

Dhawan-Rahul

2

27

13.5

0

0

Clearly, the Sharma-Dhawan opening combination trumps all the other combinations by a long shot. There has been a growing concern over Dhawan's form, but he has been one of the best openers in the world in last 6 years and it’s worth giving him a long rope to regain his form. He showed glimpses of it in his knock of 143 against Australia in Mohali, scoring the highest individual score of his career. They will be pivotal for a successful world cup campaign, and India will pin their hopes on the duo to come good.

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