A few weeks ago, Shikhar Dhawan planned to spend his holidays in Australia, and by far, he would not have imagined taking guard at Galle in the series opener. But, it wasn’t to be as fortune favoured the southpaw. He would have certainly not thought that his valiant outing will put the skipper and the think-tank in a state of dilemma, where they stand at the moment. Skipper Viraṭ Kohli is under pressure, but it’s a good pressure. The pressure of making a tough call between the openers, pressure of deciding who should get a go at Colombo. But he would certainly prefer to be in such a situation rather than pondering for working options. India is the top-ranked side for a reason; their openers are on a roll, spinners have wreaked havoc, seamers are grabbing every opportunity and the lower-order is milking runs.
After thrashing Sri Lanka by 304-runs, which was also their biggest away win in terms of runs, India now face the Colombo challenge. They have left no stones unturned in their preparation and will look to come out hard and seal the series with another win. Another Test win in Sri Lanka will be huge for Kohli; it will make him the only captain to have four Test wins under his belt on Sri Lankan soil. But India have some tough decisions to make going into the second Test. Many teams like England and South Africa for instance, have struggled to find a reliable opening pair. But India at the moment are very fortunate to have such an aura of on-song openers.
Luck has favoured Dhawan; at first, Murali Vijay’s wrist injury paved way for him in the Indian squad and then KL Rahul’s viral fever sculpted a spot for the southpaw in the playing XI. Abhinav Mukund was chosen as the backup opener but Vijay’s exclusion made him the first-choice alongside KL Rahul. There was no way, Dhawan and Mukund would have opened at Galle had Rahul not fallen ill just before the opening encounter. Interestingly, both the openers got runs at Galle and further made their presence unavoidable. Shikhar Dhawan scored a match-winning 190 off 168 deliveries in the first innings whereas Abhinav Mukund got a composed 81 in the second to justify his selection.
KL Rahul is now fit and available for selection, which puts the skipper and the coach in confusion. On one hand, they have their first-choice opener fully recovered and ready to take control and on the other, they have Dhawan and Mukund, who have pounded on the precious opportunities rendered at Galle. It’s a tough call to make as Rahul has been as consistent as tides at the top and has done extremely well in the past to cement his spot. But again, Dhawan has made a strong comeback and Mukund also proved his worth. Not to forget, Rahul also inflicted a brilliant run out and cupped a fantastic catch on the field.
Although India are known for their mystifying choices but they have stuck to their first choice players as soon as they have recovered from injuries in the recent times. For instance, Parthiv Patel was brought into the side as a replacement for Wriddhiman Saha in three Tests against England, the southpaw did a fabulous job but Saha was back into the side once fit. Will India disturb their winning combination and get Rahul on board at the expense of either Dhawan or Mukund? Well, only time will solve this mystery. Although Dhawan and Mukund delivered at Galle but, as a pair, they only managed 27 and 19 runs in the two innings respectively.
India could actually give Dhawan and Mukund another go. India are already 1-0 up and Sri Lankan bowling didn’t pose any threat whatsoever at Galle. Though they are capable of bouncing back but the challenge will be huge. To add to India’s good fortunes, Cheteshwar Pujara has stood like a rock at three and Virat Kohli rediscovered his mojo in the second innings at Galle. There’s not too much to worry about India’s batting when they have Hardik Pandya and Ravindra Jadeja batting at 8 and 9. They could provide Dhawan and Mukund an extra opportunity to make an impact and further make selection a lot easier for the upcoming series.
There is no doubt that Vijay and Rahul will start the proceedings when India go overseas or even in upcoming matches, provided they are fit. But India can certainly afford to gamble. It is very unlikely that a fully fit Rahul will be overlooked, no matter how big the impact made by the duo at Galle was? But chances are always there and one can expect India to spring a surprise at the toss.
It’s a difficult, extremely difficult call to make. The coach and the captain have a lot of things to ponder upon and ultimately take a call. And whoever is dropped will certainly be disappointed. But the reality is, a team can have only two openers in the playing XI and whatever will happen will be in the best interest of the team. The second Test gets underway on August 3 and all eyes are set at Colombo. Only time will unveil if India will persist with their openers from Galle Test or will it be Rahul-Dhawan or Rahul-Mukund?