Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan will start as openers for India in the upcoming ODIs against England, captain Virat Kohli has confirmed. After all the talk around India's opening combinations during the recent T20I series, Kohli said there were no "issues or doubts" about Sharma and Dhawan opening in ODIs, and that they had been "amazing" in the past few years.
"There are a couple of things that internally we have discussed that we're going to keep an eye on," Kohli said during a press conference on the eve of the ODI opener. "As far as the opening combination is concerned, yeah, Shikhar and Rohit will definitely start; when it comes to one-day cricket I don't think there's any issues or doubts over Rohit or Shikhar opening together. They have been amazing for us for the past few years. Yeah, so we'll start with that and other factors… it will be interesting because there are a few younger players who are getting an opportunity in the one-day set-up for the first time, so I am really keen to see how they go about executing their skills against a very, very strong England side."
Dhawan had opened in all three games the last time India played ODIs - in Australia - and averaged 40 with scores of 74, 30 and 16. He then played the domestic T20s and one-day tournament in India for Delhi, and even though he registered a string of low scores of 0, 0, 6 and 0 across the two formats, he ended the 50-over Vijay Hazare Trophy with a knock of 153 off 118 balls, followed by a 50-ball 44.
"We are going to back our players and try and give them a good mental space."Kohli on KL Rahul's ongoing lean patch
Over the last three years, the Sharma-Dhawan opening combination has been the third-most prolific in the world with a tally of 1479 runs, only behind Jonny Bairstow and Jason Roy at the top (1831) and Aaron Finch and David Warner second (1512).
The India squad for the ODIs also saw the return of Rishabh Pant, who had been left out of the Australia ODIs, and maiden call-ups for Suryakumar Yadav and Krunal Pandya. With a packed middle order comprising other options in Shreyas Iyer and Hardik Pandya, and Pant roaring back to form in recent times, it again raises the question whether or not an out-of-form KL Rahul will get a place in the XI. What may not work in his favour are his recent scores of 14, 0, 0 and 1 while opening in the T20Is against England and that he had crossed 15 only once - with a 76 in the second ODI in Sydney - while batting at No. 5 in the three ODIs in Australia. Kohli did not confirm if Rahul would get to start in the XI or not, but said the management would back such players and give them a good mental space.
"When an individual is going through a tough phase - it's not like he forgets how to play, it's just that mental clarity isn't as good at the time - at that time if you know what things are being said and you're being told you're out of form, then you're bringing in another external factor into your system," Kohli said of Rahul's ongoing lean patch. "It's a simple game: you have to watch the ball and react and hit the ball. You have to be in the moment and all this outside talk, to be very honest, is completely nonsense.
"From the first to the last day of my career, all this outside talk has been nonsense to me. Who says what and why about a player, what's the motive behind it, what's the thinking behind it, it's better that all that remains outside because we're not going to let it enter our system even in the future. We are going to back our players and try and give them a good mental space."
In a year that's largely being used by teams to fine-tune their line-ups for the T20 World Cup in India later this year, India and England will now play three ODIs on March 23, 26 and 28 in Pune before the required players from both squads move to the IPL bubble for the tournament that will be played from April 9 to May 30.
India will then travel to England for the World Test Championship final against New Zealand from June 18 to 22 in Southampton before their five-Test series against England from august 4 to September 10. Kohli said while "scheduling is something that's not in our control," the players "need to be spoken to and consulted with all around" to strike a balance between scheduling and workload management, especially because of the recent restrictions the Covid-19 pandemic has brought with it and the mental toll it takes on players who move from one bubble to another.
"Along the way, scheduling and workload is something everyone will have to be very aware of and keep an eye out for, especially in today's day and age where you just don't know where restrictions might come in," he said. "Even in the future, you might have to continue to play in bubbles. I think it's very important to consider how much cricket you are playing and it's not just the physical side of things but mental side of things as well.
"The players need to be spoken to and consulted with all around. Otherwise it will be a case of whoever can last through the difficult times like these… players, if not, move away and someone else replaces that player. I don't think that's healthy for a cricket system and a cricket culture moving forward which we definitely want to make stronger and stronger going into the future for India."
Vishal Dikshit is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo