Ajinkya Rahane, arguably India's most versatile Test batsman, will bat at an ODI slot he is likely to vacate when India's first-choice openers are available. On a day when his 83-ball 91 led India A to a win over the touring England side in a practice match in Mumbai, coach Anil Kumble confirmed in Pune that Rahane will bat in the top order in the ODI series.
Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have been India's third-most prolific opening partnership in ODIs. They came together in the previous Champions Trophy, in 2013 in England, and did a good job in the 2015 World Cup in Australia too. Rahane, who hadn't laid an emphatic claim to a place in the middle order, has been getting chances to open thanks to injuries to either both or one of the openers. Now, dropped from the India T20 side, Rahane gets another chance, this time with Dhawan, as Rohit recovers from surgery on his right thigh.
With KL Rahul present in the squad, Rahane will have to do something sensational to retain his place in a fully fit squad. He won't get more than three ODIs to do so, against England, although the IPL performances are not entirely insignificant when it comes to changing minds of India selectors and captains.
"At this point of time, he [Rahane] is [being looked at as a top-order option only]," Kumble said, two days before the start of the three-match ODI series against England. "In the one-day format, I don't think there's a set batting order, so at this point in time, he's still batting at the top of the order."
At any rate, the middle order is quite crowded. If Rohit and Dhawan are fit to take their take places in the Champions Trophy, with Virat Kohli a certainty at No. 3, India already have MS Dhoni, Yuvraj Singh, KL Rahul, Kedar Jadhav and Manish Pandey for the three middle-order slots. It could be a tall task for Rahane - or for that matter Suresh Raina, who is making his T20I comeback against England - to break in there.
Without giving away what the team is thinking in terms of final composition, Kumble said he was happy with the resources available. "It's a good choice that we have in the squad, with Yuvraj coming back into the team," Kumble said. "We all know what he's capable of, both as a batsman and a bowler. But, having said that, both Manish and Kedar in that slot have really done well.
"It's nice to have these choices and there is competition for places in the team. And that's what you want in a team. You want healthy competition for all places. It all depends on the pitch and the surface and what we believe is the ideal combination."
One thing Kumble promised was that India will think of winning the ODI series first rather than experiment with the Champions Trophy selection in mind. "At any given point in time, we would like to put together the best team on the park," Kumble said. "We would like to do that considering that each game is like a knockout in the Champions Trophy as well. So that's the kind of mindset the players have. That's the intent that the team will also have.
"With no tournament can you say that this is the ideal preparation you would want, so whatever we have, we will try and get the most out of it. Results are important, so we will certainly be looking for the result."
In going for wins in the current series, one of the challenges will be to deal with the dew, should India lose the toss. It will be offset to a degree by the 1.30pm starts, as opposed to the traditional 2.30pm ones in India, but Kumble said dew cannot be an excuse even if India have to encounter it at any point. To stay prepared for that, India have been bowling with wet balls in the nets.
"Yesterday, we practised till about 7.30," Kumble said. "There was not much dew. The games are starting one hour earlier than what it used to be before, so even if the dew comes into effect, it will come in the last one hour. But this has been there for a long time, so it's important that we adapt to whatever conditions are there. We can't change that. So I can't really say if there's going to be dew on match day. Generally, at this time of the year, you have dew across India, and that's why we prepare our bowlers to bowl with a wet ball. And that's all we can do. As a coach, you can prepare the team for all eventualities, and then you try and adapt to those conditions.
"I think spinners find it difficult. For fingerspinners, it is probably a lot easier than a wristspinner. But it is all about adapting and getting used to and practising. At this level, you can't really say that I can't do this. You have to. Because there's no choice, and that's what we prepare everyone for."