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India vs West Indies | T20s Done, Rahul's Chance to Make a Case as an ODI Opener Once Again

KL Rahul has probably sealed the opening spot in T20Is. A stiffer challenge awaits in ODIs.

Karthik Lakshmanan |December 13, 2019, 5:21 PM IST
India vs West Indies | T20s Done, Rahul's Chance to Make a Case as an ODI Opener Once Again

KL Rahul has probably sealed the opening spot in T20Is. A stiffer challenge awaits in ODIs.

Shikhar Dhawan's knee injury gave Rahul an opportunity to become Rohit Sharma's permanent opening partner in the shortest format. Rahul had better numbers in T20Is over the last two years, a phase when Dhawan was patchy with his T20I game. Yet, India liked the left-right combination and extended the ODI strategy to the shortest format, like they've done often.

Rahul has always been the third choice opener for India in T20Is. He has played 15 T20Is when both Rohit and Dhawan have been in the XI, but not once has he opened.

The story is similar in ODIs too. He has played nine ODIs when both the senior openers have been in the XI, but never as an opener. In short, for Rahul to play in his preferred opening position, he has had to wait for at least one of the two to be unavailable through rest or injury.

Those chances have been intermittent for Rahul, as his numbers suggest. He came into the Indian set up in 2014 but has played only 23 ODIs and 34 T20Is. In those intermittent chances, he has never been able to displace one of the two senior openers from their positions. That's how strong Rohit and Dhawan have been as a pair, especially in ODIs.

The West Indies T20Is was a such rare chance for Rahul, and came at a time when Dhawan's fortunes were sliding. It was a big opportunity for Rahul to make the spot his own, and he did just that finishing as the second highest run-getter with 164 runs from three innings, including a Man of the Match performance in the last game in Mumbai. On the other hand, Dhawan last scored a T20I half-century 14 innings back, and has struggled with strike rates too.

Unless India give too much importance to the left-right combination, it will now be Dhawan who has to fight for a more permanent opening slot in the T20Is. The tables have changed in the shortest format.

After the third T20I, Rahul conceded the difficulties of being in and out of the side, saying it's never easy.

"I won't say I won't feel it at all. Obviously, going in and out of the team is never easy on any player," Rahul said. "You take a little bit of time to get used to the international pressure and oppositions. There are no opposition where you can just walk in and score runs, so it's always difficult and this game is all about confidence and all about being in good rhythm and being in good touch."

Rahul has perhaps put a rest to those challenges in T20Is, and will have to do it again in ODIs. Dhawan is unavailable for the series, giving Rahul at least three matches to make his case. Mayank Agarwal is the other opener in the squad, but he's likely to have to wait for his turn.

But unlike T20Is, India will not be in a hurry to change their opening partnership. They are likely to back Dhawan for a longer period, for two reasons: his ODI form has not been bad, and there's no World Cup in the vicinity to look forward to.

Many a time in his career, Dhawan has gone through rough patches in ODIs but has had India's backing because he's a big match player. His record in ICC events is stunning; his last World Cup knock was a match-winning 117 against Australia at The Oval before he was ruled out with a finger injury. He made only 2 and 36 in the two ODIs of the West Indies tour that followed, but that's unlikely to work against him.

Kl Rahul and Rohit Sharma Source: AP Photo

The last time Rahul had such an opportunity was in the World Cup. Once Dhawan was out, Rahul had a chance to impress. He did a decent to good job, but did not take it to the next level. He got plenty of starts - two half-centuries, a 30 and a 48 - but converted only one to a century, in a dead rubber match against Sri Lanka. A half-decent performance in the semifinal against New Zealand could have helped his cause but he fell for just 1, which meant he lost his place as soon as Dhawan returned.

Rahul will know now that only a big performance in the West Indies ODIs will give him a more permanent position. There are not many vacancies in the middle order too, with Shreyas Iyer impressing at No. 4. Either way, Rahul's more successful as an opener than in any other position; he averages 50.33 as an opener and 16.66 elsewhere.

Can he do in ODIs what he did in the T20s?

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