On the eve of the first ODI, new India skipper Virat Kohli had made it clear there was no room for experimentations with just three one-dayers to go before figuring out the best combinations for the Champions Trophy in June.
While the rest of the line-up looks tuned, the third opener’s position still hasn’t been settled. Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma are the most preferred openers for India. In this series though, KL Rahul got a look in for both ODIs ahead of Ajinkya Rahane for the opening slot in the absence of injured Sharma.
The move was surprising because the team management had shown more trust in Rahul, who had just three ODIs under his belt, all played against minnows Zimbabwe. Rahane on the other hand has the experience of 72 matches.
Rahul’s performance however has been disappointing. He was bowled through the gates in the first ODI for eight and didn’t fare any better in the second ODI in Cuttack as well, edging Chris Woakes to second slip. With just one ODI left in the series now, it leaves an interesting tussle between Rahul and Rahane should Kohli gives the position of third opener a second thought.
Rahane can’t be accommodated in the middle-order simply because India coach Anil Kumble had made it clear that he is a ‘top order’ batsman. And it’s not as if Rahane hasn’t been given enough chances at the top.
Known for proper cricketing shots, Rahane had a golden opportunity to become a certainty in the team after he was given the opening slot due to Dhawan’s injury in the New Zealand ODI series.
But he managed to score only 143 runs in five innings. Rahane made a crisp 91 in the second warm-up match against England, but that wasn’t enough for to convince the Indian team management to play him in the first ODI.
Another reason why the team might not have enough confidence in Rahane is because of his conventional style. In an era where teams bank on flying starts, Rahane’s strike rate of 77.02 as opener is in sharp contrast with Rohit (88.52) and Dhawan (90.26). Already axed from India’s T20 squad against England, Rahane is slowly drifting towards being restricted to the Test arena.
Unless Kohli wants to rethink his policy, Rahane looks to be out of the one-day set-up. But Rahul’s display might just give Rahane one last chance to prove his mettle.