Dhawan has not left a lasting impact in T20Is, while KL Rahul is touted as a natural

India vs England: KL Rahul Or Shikhar Dhawan – Who Should Open With Rohit Sharma In T20Is?


Rohit Sharma is back in India’s T20I squad and so are the debates on who should open with him in the shortest format of the game: KL Rahul or Shikhar Dhawan? It’s a pertinent question that has done the rounds for a while now and needs to be answered quickly as team India hope regain the T20 World Cup title this year.

Often accused of mixing the formats, the team management has shown an inclination to stick with their trusted ODI pair of Dhawan and Rohit even in the T20Is. However, Dhawan’s strike-rate, especially the tendency to start off slow, has led to calls for him to be dropped and Rahul to play instead.

Shikhar Dhawan or KL Rahul

Rahul, on the other hand, is a batsman who has completely transformed his range of strokeplay in the last three-four years and is considered ripe to partner Rohit in the T20Is by many.

In Australia late last year, when Rohit’s injury meant he couldn’t arrive in time for the series, Dhawan and Rahul opened together in the T20Is. But with India’s first-choice opening batsman back for the coming England challenge, only one of them could retain his spot at the top of the order.

Both Dhawan and Rahul averaged 27 for 81 runs each with an almost similar strike-rate – 128.57 and 126.56 – during the T20I series against Australia. Rahul, however, has proven to be more explosive of the two in their overall T20I career without compromising on his consistency. He has struck runs at 144.92 while averaging 44.05 over 45 matches. The corresponding numbers for Dhawan are disappointing as he averages 28.28 from 64 matches with a strike-rate of 128.28.

Going by that, Rahul should be easily ahead of Dhawan in the pecking order for India. But what complicates the issue are the duo’s IPL numbers, especially at the start of the innings during the crucial powerplay overs.

In the last edition of the IPL, Dhawan went at a significantly better strike-rate of 139.13 during the powerplay overs than Rahul, who scored at a rate of only 124.59. And while he averaged 152 in the vital field restriction overs as opposed to his direct competitor, who produced 32 runs per wicket, it was evident that Rahul was batting within himself and cutting down risks to prolong his stay at the crease. Paradoxically, Dhawan batted with greater freedom throughout the tournament.

It was down to the situation they found themselves in as individual players. While Rahul clearly took the pressure of captaining Punjab Kings (PBKS) to his head and looked to bat deep into the innings, Dhawan used the cushion provided to him by the Delhi Capitals (DC) to upskill his game and take more chances. Rahul aggregated 304 runs in the powerplay overs for just two dismissals in 14 innings of IPL 2020, whereas Dhawan got out eight times in 17 innings and made 256 runs. A clear reflection of the approach they had for their respective teams.

Rahul’s sedate ways appeased the traditionalists but certainly hurt the PBKS team at different stages in the tournament as they lacked the scores to cover up for their weaker-suit: bowling. Dhawan, though, blazed his willow for a couple of magnificent hundreds and played his part in taking DC to the final.

Many felt Rahul could’ve opted to take more risks without compromising on his consistency, such is the talent and ability he possesses. And many back him to bat in the freeflowing manner he can when he doesn’t feel the pressure of captaincy while playing for India.

Similarly, Dhawan can argue his T20 game is on the way up and he deserves more opportunities in the Indian colours to strengthen his case.

For the Indian team management, it will be about backing the potential, whether it is the one of Rahul without the captaincy baggage or Dhawan’s in his newfound avatar. Either way, by the end of this five-match series against England, we’ll know which way the scale is tilted. 

A cricket writer by heart and profession. Currently at work for CricXtasy. Previously with Circle of Cricket. You can find him on Twitter @crickashish217