Whom should India open with in the fourth T20I?

Will Rahul retain his spot? Will Kishan open again? Does Dhawan have an outside chance?

Varun Shetty
Varun Shetty
India have depth in their squad for this series as far as their opening options are concerned. Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul were touted as India's current first-choice pair by captain Virat Kohli, with Shikhar Dhawan and Ishan Kishan offering left-handed choices. All four of them have had at least a game so far, with Rahul being the constant across the three matches. His poor form, however, has meant that India haven't gone past the first few overs without losing a wicket in each match. In two of those cases, their powerplay scores have ended up being among their four slowest ever: 22 for 3 in the first game, and 24 for 3 on Tuesday.
With only two games' room to experiment on team structure before the T20 World Cup in October, will they make changes to the opening combination? Here are some options:
Stick to Sharma-Rahul
Although they were said to be first choice, the two only came together in the third match. Their stats together suggest they are India's most destructive opening pair ever in this format (minimum two partnerships): 565 runs together in 12 innings at a scoring rate of 9.65 per over. Two of those innings have had century stands, including India's record 165.
It's plain to see why India would consider them their first-choice pair, but will they continue to back Rahul as he goes through a lean phase? Since the start of 2018, only four batsmen have more T20 runs than Rahul - Babar Azam, Alex Hales, Colin Munro, and Aaron Finch. But India's need to try out new options and cement a third opener for the T20 World Cup might go against him for now.
Switch back to Sharma-Dhawan
If Sharma-Rahul makes the most destructive pair, then Sharma-Dhawan makes for the most prolific and consistent one. They have opened together 52 times, more than thrice the second-placed pair of Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir who opened 17 times, and are unmatched for run-scoring, for any wicket. They have put up 1743 runs, scoring at 8.28 per over, with four century stands and seven fifty stands.
After some time out of the T20I squad, Dhawan showed a reinvented T20 game at last year's IPL. He was second on the run-scoring charts with a tally of 618, striking at 144.73. Only Rahul made more runs than him, but those 670 runs came at a much lower strike rate of 129.34. Is there a chance for Dhawan to take his spot back?
Make Kishan open again
As one of the first-choice openers and after being rested for the first two games, Sharma could also get three matches in this series. But if Rahul doesn't get any more game time, India could go straight back to having Kishan as an opener. The left-hand batsman began his international career with a scintillating 32-ball 56 which won him the Player-of-the-Match award, only to drop down to No. 3 in the next game. While he has had success batting anywhere in the top four for the Mumbai Indians, moving him back into the opening slot could give India the benefit of giving Suryakumar Yadav some batting time.
Kohli and one of the openers
If this series and its chopping and changing is, indeed, India looking to give their bench a run then there would be a lot to gain from pushing Kohli up as an opener. Yadav didn't get to bat on debut and Shreyas Iyer is far from his best position in the XI as things stand. A batting order of Yadav, Iyer, and Pant in any of positions 3, 4 and 5 could give them all better chances to show their wares. It would also allow India to try a six-bowler strategy, with an extra space opening up for somebody like Axar Patel to come in behind Hardik Pandya.
As a T20 opener, Kohli's average is identical to his average at No. 3 - both hovering about 45. But he scores faster as opener (140.44) as opposed to No. 3 (130.44). All five of his T20 centuries have also come while opening.

Varun Shetty is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo