The ICC T20 World Cup in Australia is not far away now. However, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that Team India are still unsettled over who should open with captain Rohit Sharma at the ICC event. Even last year, the confusion over the opening slot hurt India. Rohit and KL Rahul opened against Pakistan. However, both perished cheaply to Shaheen Afridi, after which India opened with Ishan Kishan against New Zealand, with Rohit moving down to No. 4. It has been quite a few months since India’s disastrous exit from the tournament. However, while they have improved significantly as a T20I side, the opening conundrum remains unsolved.
Of course, it did not help that Rahul has gotten injured more than once and hence has been out of the team a lot more than he has been in it. And ever since returning from a long injury layoff, he has been completely rusty. He did not grab his opportunities during the ODI tour of Zimbabwe, although he was a captain on that tour. He bowled first after winning the toss in the first two matches when he should ideally have gotten some batting practice.
The bizarre tactics have hurt his Asia Cup 2022 campaign as well since he has continued to look out of sorts. He was out for a golden duck against Pakistan in the first match, and scored at less than a run-a-ball against Hong Kong as well. He did look in decent touch in the first Super 4 encounter against Pakistan, but, disappointingly, failed to convert a start. There are only a handful of matches for India now ahead of the T20 World Cup and if Rahul does not rediscover his batting rhythm, the Indian team management will be in a tight spot.
No plan B
India have only themselves to blame for finding themselves in such a blind spot. They had enough opportunities to groom a backup opener for Rahul when the first-choice player was out with injury. The Men in Blue had multiple options in Ruturaj Gaikwad, Ishan Kishan and Shubman Gill. However, instead of grooming an alternative, they went into over-experimentation mode. As a result, Rishabh Pant opened in a few T20Is, and then they shifted to Suryakumar Yadav. Gaikwad and Kishan also got their chances. However, the point of the exercise was defeated as India are unsure of their backup option now, just in case they want to look beyond Rahul.
The other alternative is of course to back Rahul and bank on his experience and expertise to come good in Australia, even if he continues to fail in the build-up to the ICC event. That approach, however, is not the ideal one and will be fraught with massive risk. It will be more of a punt that the Indian management and selectors will be taking if they decide to go with Rahul even if the 30-year-old does not rediscover his form ahead of the event.
Rahul sailing in similar boat to Roy?
Rahul’s case is similar to that of maverick opener Jason Roy from England. The latter has recently been key to the team’s white-ball fortunes. However, he has been dropped from the country’s T20 World Cup squad due to his recent lean patch. It remains to be seen whether India will be forced to make a similar decision over the course of the next few days.
If Rahul can play a couple of good knocks in the coming matches, a big headache will be off the selectors’ shoulders. If he doesn’t, then it would be interesting to see what the selectors decide. Either way, it will not be an easy decision to make. After all, it is the World Cup that we are talking about. Let’s wait and watch what the selectors eventually decide about KL Rahul.