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HindustanTimes Fri,24 Oct 2014
India's opening slot in focus as Dhawan, Vijay fight for berth
Khurram Habib, Hindustan Times
Birmingham, September 01, 2014
First Published: 23:42 IST(1/9/2014)
Last Updated: 23:57 IST(1/9/2014)

The indoor nets at Edgbaston in Birmingham, the home of Warwickshire's county team and where Brian Lara hammered 501 not out 20 years ago, are quite spacious.

The India players had a splendid time during their warm-up game, a version of sepak takraw (kick volleyball) though lacking the finesse of the real deal.

Virat Kohli though gushed to his captain MS Dhoni, "This was fun, this is pretty big."

There was enough space for all three contenders for the opening slot - Murali Vijay, Shikhar Dhawan and Ajinkya Rahane - to begin their nets along with Kohli at about the same time.

With the in-form Rahane taking the farthest strip and away from the gaze of everyone, Dhoni stood with coach Duncan Fletcher, probably comparing the style of the other two batting next to each other as he gesticulated to differentiate an inside-out shot from one straight and punchy.
 
Batting slots
Vijay, the rare bright spot in India's Test series debacle, has returned from India to replace the injured Rohit Sharma. It will be a toss-up between him and Dhawan if Dhoni keeps Rahane at the top. If he pushes Rahane back to No. 4 and plays both the regular openers, he may leave out Ambati Rayudu, though that will be harsh on the Baroda batsman, who scored an impressive half-century in Trent Bridge.

Not that the form at the nets should have a bearing on the final selection. With the ball expected to move a bit on the Edgbaston pitch, the indoor nets, where it comes on pretty straight, may not be of much help.

But the fact that the two are fighting for a slot, and are desperate to demonstrate their form, must be reason enough for Dhoni to smile.

The opening partnership is probably the only problem India face going into Tuesday's game. Victory will not just help India seal the series but also make Dhoni the most successful ODI skipper of India, surpassing Mohammad Azharuddin's record. Edgbaston is also where India beat England to lift the Champions Trophy last year.

Barring that odd streak in the Asia Cup where the openers averaged over 50 on the benign tracks in Bangladesh, India batsmen have struggled to lay a decent platform on recent tours. They averaged 12 in South Africa, less than 23 in New Zealand and 36 in Bangladesh, where the India second string found the surprisingly swinging conditions tough to handle. In the two ODIs at Edgbaston, they are averaging 27.

Although the day began with a drizzle, the sun was out by the time India were finishing practice. The wicket is likely to have something for the spinners, though not as much as Trent Bridge. It could be another battle between the England batsmen and India spinners.

England's selection will be under the scanner. Whether they bring in home boy Moeen Ali, who rocked India in the Tests, as a second off-spinner is the big question.


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