Indian cricketer Lokesh Rahul plays a shot during a practice session at The R.Peremadasa Stadium in Colombo on August 30, 2017. The fourth one day international (ODI) cricket match between India and Sri Lanka takes place in Colombo on August 31. / AFP PHOTO / LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI (Photo credit should read LAKRUWAN WANNIARACHCHI/AFP/Getty Images)

India’s T20I Squad For England: Should Lokesh Rahul Open?

There is less than a month to go before India begin their highly anticipated tour of England. India will be playing three T20Is and three ODIs against England, before the main event: five Test matches. As usual, India’s limited overs squad is looking very strong. They have immense depth and a plethora of combinations to choose from. Before the IPL, India would have viewed Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan as being their first-choice opening pair. However, Lokesh Rahul’s sensational IPL season has thrown this into confusion. There is a chance that Rahul could displace Dhawan at the top of the order.

Lokesh Rahul’s Sublime IPL

Rahul, the wicket-keeper for the Kings XI Punjab, had his best ever IPL season this year. The opening batsman scored 659 runs at an average of near 55, striking at an impressive 158. Although he did not manage to reach a century, he hit six fifties and notched an impressive high score of 95*. This would have been a huge relief for Rahul, since he had a torrid start to the year in India’s national side.

Rahul struggled in India’s tour of South Africa, only managing a top score of 16 in two Test matches. He also featured in two T20Is during the Nidahas Trophy, but was given a role in India’s middle order. In one match he batted at three, while in the other match he found himself one spot lower at four. The results were slightly underwhelming as he scored 18 and 24 respectively.
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Yet, in the 2018 IPL, Rahul was in the form of his life. In contrast, Shikhar Dhawan was nowhere near as prolific. The left-hander recorded 497 runs with an average of around 38. However, it is interesting to note that Dhawan’s strike rate was significantly lower than Rahul’s. Dhawan went at a rate of just 136, which is feeble when compared with Rahul striking at over 150 over the season. This is not the sole metric the Indian selectors will be using, prior history will be key, but his IPL performances will be hard to overlook.

Rohit and Rahul As An Opening Partnership

Rohit Sharma has opened with Lokesh Rahul before. This opening partnership has been used in four T20Is and Rahul seems to enjoy opening with Rohit. One match against Sri Lanka (23rd December 2017 at Indore) stands out in particular. In that match, Rahul hit a quick 89 and Rohit ended on 118, as they combined for an opening stand worth 165. This was India’s highest ever T20I partnership and the fourth highest of all time.

Therefore, if India were to ask Rahul to open at the expense of Dhawan, this would not be a totally new plan but has worked before. Rohit is one of the most destructive limited overs players in the history of the game and when he combines with Rahul we can expect some serious fireworks. However, this partnership is untested in ODI cricket. For the longer format, we can expect Rohit and Dhawan to open since they have been tried and tested in England before.

Dhawan and Rohit In England

One caveat that may prevent Rahul from opening in England is how well Dhawan and Rohit have done in England before. Although the pair have never opened in a T20I in England before, they have done so numerous times in ODI cricket. Rohit Sharma’s career ODI batting average is 44.55, but when he opens with Dhawan in England, he is averaging well over fifty.
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The same applies for Shikhar Dhawan. When Dhawan opens the batting in England with Rohit, the left-hander is averaging over 70, while in the rest of his career he is averaging 45.90. So, they both love to open with each other in England. This will be another factor that the Indian selectors will have to take into account when deciding their team composition for the T20I matches.

Should Lokesh Rahul Open?

It is a gamble, but one worth taking. Rahul has proven that he is one of the most eye-catching T20 players in the world and bats at a higher gear than Dhawan. Combining his talent with Rohit’s strength could constitute the best opening partnership in T20I cricket. It would be hard for Rahul to bat in India’s middle order, given Virat Kohli’s position at three alongside the return of Suresh Raina.

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