Match Analysis

Shikhar Dhawan is back, but KL Rahul isn't stepping aside

Both openers scored 34-ball half-centuries in Pune, intensifying their heated top-order tussle

Shikhar Dhawan is fine. You can stop worrying about him, at least for now. In his first T20I on return from injury, the 34-year-old opener contributed 32 off 29 balls in Indore and then set up India's series-clinching victory against Sri Lanka, with a more imposing 36-ball 52, in Pune.
At the post-match press conference, Dhawan was asked if Gabbar was well and truly back. He nodded, and said he hadn't been worried even when a knee injury had sidelined him from the six-match limited-overs series against West Indies in December last year.
In Dhawan's absence, KL Rahul enjoyed an extended stint at the top of the order and ran up scores of 62,11 and 91 in the T20Is against West Indies, and 6, 102 and 77 in the ODIs. He has extended his rich form against Sri Lanka, making 45 and 54 to heat up the race for the second opener's role behind white-ball vice-captain Rohit Sharma.
In the second T20I against Sri Lanka in Indore, Rahul had dashed out of the blocks and accounted for 38 of the 54 runs India made in the Powerplay, and all six of their fours in that period. Rahul has been a faster starter than both Dhawan and Rohit in recent times, but Dhawan reminded the world of his bouncebackability and his experience on Friday night.
With the series up for grabs, India were sent in - at the toss, their captain Virat Kohli said they would have tested themselves by batting first even if they had won the toss. Rahul dashed out of the blocks once again with back-to-back cover-driven fours off Angelo Mathews.
At the other end, Dhawan regularly dashed out of the crease, but struggled for timing in the early exchanges. He could have been dismissed for 1 in that Mathews over had Dasun Shanaka not misjudged a catch at the square-leg boundary.
After a few failed advances down the pitch, Dhawan opted to stay leg-side of the ball and manufacture some swinging room, but Lasith Malinga followed him with a furious yorker that he kept out. Malinga then induced an outside edge from a weak drive, but there was nobody at slip to snap it up. After facing two more balls from Malinga, Dhawan was finally on his way, as he stood still and chipped a blameless good-length ball with the round-the-wicket angle between short midwicket and mid-on for four.
Then, in the next over, the last one in the Powerplay, Dhawan cracked fast bowler Lahiriu Kumara for back-to-back fours. There were shades of the old Dhawan when he stretched out, opened the face of the bat, and drove Kumara to the right of extra-cover.
"[Attacking is] my job and we've to take advantage of first six overs," Dhawan said. "Whenever I thought I can dominate the bowler, I go and do it. To step out or stand and deliver, I do it. Of course, against Sri Lanka, Malinga bowls really well against left-handers, very consistent with his inswinging yorkers and that's why I changed my strategy right from ball one. I was attacking him as well; to keep rotating the strike he wasn't giving me that many loose deliveries."
Having been on seven off nine balls at one point, Dhawan accelerated dramatically. Both he and Rahul were on 30 at the end of the powerplay, Dhawan having faced 19 balls to Rahul's 17. Thereafter, Dhawan outscored his partner and raced to his half-century off 34 balls. Dhawan raised his bat, a sell-out crowd of 34,876 soaked everything in, and Rahul hugged him.
After Dhawan departed in the 11th over, dragging a sweep to deep midwicket, Rahul secured his own half-century off 34 balls, reminding the team management of the selection headache they face at the top of the order when Rohit returns.
Dhawan reckoned that his left-handedness might work in his favour, but stressed that he wasn't insecure about his place.
"Picture achhi ban rahi hai abhi (the frame is heating up)," he said. "Khair yeh sirdardi meri nahin hai (but this is not my headache). So, I don't think about it, because that thing is not in my hands, it is in my hands to perform and play well. I am happy and satisfied that I got two opportunities and was able to express myself…baaki coaches aur captain ke upar hai (the rest it is up to the coaches and the captain), to unki sirdadi main kyun loon (so why should I take their headache)?"
Rohit will be back in the frame later this month during the five-match T20I series in New Zealand, where the shootout between Dhawan and Rahul should heat up another notch.

Deivarayan Muthu is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo