Dhawan vs Rahul: Who's Leading the T20 Opener Race?
In the last year, Rahul has been the second-highest run-scorer for India
After failing to do justice to his potential, KL Rahul was dropped from the Indian set-up post a lean West Indies tour. The right-hander, though, took it in his stride and dived head-on into the domestic setup. A good run in the domestic Syed Mushtaq Ali trophy meant that Rahul was back in India's scheme of things.
In the meantime, Shikhar Dhawan was back after a thumb injury that kept him out of most of the ODI World Cup. He looked in the pole position to partner Rohit as the opener in the T20 World Cup. However, his recurring injuries opened the door for KL Rahul, and he Karnataka batsman didn't disappoint.
Rahul made full use of the opportunity at hand and raked up of 62, 11 and 91 in the T20Is and 6, 102 and 77 in the ODIs on the West Indies tour of India alone. Now, with Dhawan back, the conundrum for India is to choose between the two.
In the last year, KL Rahul has been the second-highest run-scorer for India, just behind Virat Kohli in T20Is. Shikhar Dhawan is at number four in the list. Despite the southpaw having played three more matches than Rahul, the right-hander has almost 100 runs more than Dhawan in this period, at an average of over 45 and a strike rate of close to 145. Dhawan's average during this time is 25.42 and the strike rate is just under 115.
Clearly, Rahul is head and shoulders ahead of Dhawan in this regard. But, one must not forget that 2019 wasn't the best of years for Shikhar Dhawan, where he struggled with form and fitness, especially in the shortest format of the game.
Taking a bigger sample size, from June 18, 2016 onwards, when Rahul made his T20I debut, numbers between the opening contenders are quite closer. Rahul has been the second-highest run-scorer for India in T20Is since his debut, with 1237 runs from 33 innings at an average of 44.17 and a strike rate of 146.39. Shikhar Dhawan is at the third place with 1172 runs from 37 innings at 32.55 and strike rate of just under 135.
The perception that Dhawan bats too slowly in the T20 format has gained acceptance in the recent times. However, that is not completely true. There are times when Dhawan takes a backseat as Rohit Sharma takes control. Similarly, in the IPL, he was given the role of playing second fiddle to David Warner for Sunrisers Hyderabad.
In fact, in the six T20Is that Dhawan has played in Australia, he has struck at close to 170. Rahul, on the other, has featured in only three games Down Under, in which he has a strike rate of 84.38.
The Delhi lad is a confidence player. He may have a stretch when he's not scoring at all but when he does get going, three-four centuries in a matter of eight games is no unrealistic target for him.
India skipper Virat Kohli avoided giving a straight answer to this riddle and will want to give both enough chances before reaching any conclusion. “All three openers are pretty strong players, and it’s great to have players playing well in the team. It gives you options. But I think people need to stop pitting players against each other. It’s all about a team game. I don’t endorse this idea of putting people in the team against each other,” Kohli opined after the Sri Lanka series.
That said, the kind of form KL Rahul is in, he'll probably be the first name on the team sheet of most international sides. But, such is the batting talent at the top of the order in India that even he is not a certainty for India's T20 World Cup starting XI.
Rahul's sheer load of runs may have made him undroppable but the left-hand, right-hand combination, proven worth in big-ticket tournaments and suitability to the true pace and bounce of Australia will probably ensure that both the openers make it to India's World Cup squad.