Dhawan: 'Competition for the opening slot is a very good thing'
Limited-overs captain says no chats with team management in England about player selection have happened yet
Competition for the opening slot is a good thing, and the Sri Lanka tour will be a step towards narrowing down on a few options ahead of the T20 World Cup, according to India's stand-in captain Shikhar Dhawan, ahead of the first ODI in Colombo.
"Every series is big when you play for India and all the players know how important every game is," Dhawan said. "There is competition for the opening slot and it's a very good thing. Whoever plays, the goal is to do well as a team. Along the way, if we also do well, then these things [selection] take care of themselves."
Dhawan also stated he hasn't had any specific conversations with the Virat Kohli or Ravi Shastri ahead of the Sri Lanka series, in terms of looking out for certain players. At the same time, he was open to the idea of fielding certain players through a mutual understanding with the Indian team management in England.
"As of now, I haven't had any specific chat with Virat or Ravi bhai," he said. "I'm sure they may have spoken to Rahul bhai, or the selectors and that message will be conveyed to us. Whoever it is, the focus is on the T20 World Cup. If selectors or team management come to a mutual understanding that we need to play someone specifically, this is a great platform to have a look at them."
Dhawan was asked about his thoughts on India being labelled a second-string XI by Arjuna Ranatunga, the former Sri Lanka captain. "If they feel it is a second team, that is their feeling," he chuckled. "We are here to play Sri Lanka, it counts as an international match, and we are here to seize the opportunities." The Indian captained was coy when asked about his opening partner. India have Prithvi Shaw, Devdutt Padikkal and Ruturaj Gaikwad to choose from. It's likely Shaw could get the first opportunity, having come into the tour on the back of a prolific run in white-ball cricket this year.
The 837 runs Shaw made during Mumbai's title-winning run, including three 150-plus scores, is the most in Vijay Hazare Trophy history, and Shaw continued his sparkling form in the IPL too. Padikkal, the tall left-handed opener, finished second in the Hazare Trophy with 737 runs, courtesy four consecutive List A centuries. He followed that up with an excellent IPL season for Royal Challengers Bangalore before the season was postponed due to the pandemic.
All Dhawan gave away, however, was that the player had been identified and will only be revealed on match day. The Indian captain was also hopeful of Kuldeep Yadav and Yuzvendra Chahal bowling well in tandem. The two haven't played together since the 2019 World Cup in England. "They both share great chemistry and have won so many matches and series for us," he said. "They are bowling really well. Even Rahul Chahar, he's a great spinner. We have a bunch of very good spinners, all of whom are bowling well and are on top of their game and fitness."
Dhawan was then prodded a bit about India's six spin bowling options - the others are Krunal Pandya and the uncapped duo of Varun Chakravarthy and K Gowtham - and if they intended to give all of them a look-in at some stage.
"We haven't really discussed who gets how many games," he said. "The first goal is to win the series and we will play the best XI to win. We will pick whoever we feel can do well [on a given day]. it's not like we have to play everyone just because we have brought them here. That is not the thought process."
Dhawan was most happy about having gotten to spend time with the younger players. The group spent two weeks in Mumbai and have spent three weeks in Colombo, having bonded on and off the field, apart from playing a few practice matches. In a video put out on social media, Dhawan was even seen playing flute with Shaw singing along.
"I've interacted with all my younger colleagues," he said with a smile. "It's good to know them personally, see their skills in the nets. It's great to be connected to them - [Sandeep] Warrier, [Ishan] Porel, Akshdeep [Singh] and all other youngsters . There is great vibe in the team. It's been a month now [that they have been together]."
Shashank Kishore is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo