While India's latest opening pair in ODI cricket has yet to be tested consistently by quality teams across varied conditions, they have put up numbers in a short span of time that demand attention. Considering the selectors and team management are building a team for the 2015 World Cup, and look to have moved past an ageing Virender Sehwag while putting Gautam Gambhir on notice, the success that Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have achieved over the summer is promising. Paired for the ICC Champions Trophy in early June, Dhawan and Rohit have formed a solid opening alliance in 13 innings in England, the West Indies and Zimbabwe since.
Short time, good returns
Overall, in the list of India's most successful opening partnerships, Dhawan and Rohit currently occupy the 11th spot. After just 13 innings, their tally stands at 647 runs at an average of 49.76 per innings. They have three century stands and two fifty stands in that time.
Four pairs on that list above them have not added century stands thrice: Sunil Gavaskar and Kris Srikkanth managed two century stands in 55 innings, Manoj Prabhakar and Sachin Tendulkar two in 19 innings, Prabhakar and Navjot Sidhu two in 14 innings, and Sidhu and Srikkanth just once in 15 innings. In terms of per-wicket average, the Dhawan-Rohit combo stands at third (cut-off of 10 innings) behind Gautam Gambhir and Virender Sehwag (50.54 in 38 innings) and Ajay Jadeja and Tendulkar (59.77 in 22).
Change of roles, leap of faith
Rohit is not a specialist opener, but in his latest avatar he has been entrusted with the job of opening the innings with Dhawan at ODI level. This has a lot to do with the axing of Sehwag and Gambhir and a lack of quality opening options on the domestic circuit, and the continued faith that Rohit seems to find with the selectors. Though his international career has been patchy, and at times his inconsistency infuriating, Rohit continues to get opportunities and his latest move to have him open looks to be his best chance at staying in the ODI team.
Of his 102 ODIs, 19 have seen Rohit open the innings - and in those he averages 35.82 (slightly higher than an overall average of 32.37) with six fifties. The first three of those came in January 2011 during India's tour of South Africa, and proved a failure as Rohit made 23, 1 and 5. But since he was given another shot at ODIs in January 2013, Rohit has had a more consistent run. It began with a 93-ball 83 against England followed by 4 in the dead rubber, but that was enough for the selectors to persist with Rohit when the ICC Champions Trophy began.
In England, Rohit made 65, 52, 18, 33 and 9. The first two fifties contributed to century stands with Dhawan as India made a strong start to the tournament. The inconsistency that has dogged him returned for the second half of the tournament, but when India went to the West Indies for a triangular just after lifting the trophy, Rohit cobbled together a decent string of scores: 60, 5, 46, 48* and 58.
Then came the low-profile tour of Zimbabwe, and scores of 20, 1, 14 and 64*. Rohit commemorated his 100th ODI appearance with a single-digit score, and through the series his tendency to waft outside off stump saw him struggle.
Compatibility the key
Having a free-stroking batsman like Dhawan at the other end has allowed Rohit to play his shots instead of simply hold up one end. Of their three century partnerships, Rohit has outscored Dhawan in two. Of the 127 the pair added against South Africa at Cardiff, Rohit contributed 65 to Dhawan's 53 and in the next match when they put on 101 against West Indies at The Oval, Rohit had 52 of those and Dhawan 47. When they put on 123 against West Indies at Port of Spain, Dhawan made 69 of the runs as compared to Rohit's 39.
What Rohit should try and do is also use Dhawan's red-hot form and solidity to set himself up for long innings - something he has struggled to produce in ODIs (he has two hundreds and 18 fifties in 102 matches).
Here is a break down of Dhawan and Rohit's success in ODIs, team-wise.
v South Africa: 1 innings, 127 runs, average 127
v West Indies: 3 innings, 249 runs, average 83, best of 123
v Pakistan: 1 innings, 58 runs, average 58
v Sri Lanka: 4 innings, 139 runs, average 34.75, best of 77
v England: 1 innings, 19 runs, average 19
v Zimbabwe: 3 innings, 55 runs, average 18.33, best of 27
Here is a list of their best opening partnerships.
127 v South Africa, Cardiff, June 6 2013
123 v West Indies, Port of Spain, July 5 2013
101 v West Indies, The Oval, June 11 2013
77 v Sr Lanka, Cardiff, June 20 2013
58 v Pakistan, Birmingham, June 15 2013
Eye on 2015
Dhawan and Rohit's success together in a short span of time allows the Indian selectors to continue looking at the best combo to send to Australia and New Zealand for the World Cup in two years. Pairing them together has paid off, so far, but they will need to reproduce this success over a period of time. Australia visit in October for seven ODIs, and then there are tours to South Africa, New Zealand and England. The big test will be India's trip to Australia in late 2014, not long before the World Cup, and so it is in Dhawan and Rohit's best interest that they keep scoring runs in all conditions to ensure they are on that tour to Australia.
Have your say: Do you think Dhawan and Rohit are India's 2015 World Cup openers?