The opening spots in the Indian cricket team have always been subject to a musical chairs competition. It becomes that much more prominent this time around with Rohit Sharma's absence.
India have travelled to Australia with as many as 4 opening batsmen for both the white-ball squads, and 2 of them will have to either sit out or play out of position. There are four clear candidates for the two berths at the top for the Test matches as well.
Recent form, as seen at IPL 2020, current requirements of the Indian Team and future plans will all come into play as we try to map out the possible combinations for the impending tour.
India's expected openers for the ODIs
The much-awaited tour of Australia will kick off on November 27 with a 3-match ODI series. For the opening spots, the Indian team has Shikhar Dhawan, KL Rahul, Mayank Agarwal, and Sanju Samson to choose from.
Irrespective of his performances in other formats for India, Shikhar Dhawan has been one of the team's most consistent performers when it comes to ODI cricket. The last time India met Australia in an ODI series, Dhawan scored 74 and 97 in the two innings that he played.
Australia are also one of his favorite opponents overall. He scored a match-winning century in the 2019 World Cup against Australia, and has a flaunt-worthy career average of 45.80 against them in ODIs. Dhawan's presence also allows a left hand-right hand combination at the top.
His place in the team would have been uncertain if he hadn't performed well in the IPL but his back-to-back centuries mean that he is likely to be a sure starter this series.
Unless India decides to experiment with Sanju Samson as the middle-order wicketkeeper-batsman, KL Rahul is expected to keep his place at number five. Rahul also hinted at the same in a recent interview.
So one of Mayank Agarwal and Samson will be paired with Dhawan. Chances are tilted more in favour of the former as Samson wasn't in the original ODI squad, and was only added as part of a squad update. However, Samson could still play some part as a middle-order batsman as he showed in IPL 2020 for the Rajasthan Royals.
Expected openers: Shikhar Dhawan and Mayank Agarwal
India's expected openers for the T20Is
When it comes to T20s, India can't look too far ahead of KL Rahul. He has been India's best batsman in the shortest format in recent years, scoring at a strike rate that is upwards of 140 in their last three series. He also scored the most runs at IPL 2020, leading his side from the front with 670 runs in just 14 innings.
Rahul, along with IPL 2020's second-highest run-scorer, Dhawan are expected to edge Mayank Agarwal and Samson for the opening berths. Both of them didn't do much wrong themselves though, striking at over 155 in the season. They could be in for an opening spot in one of the games if the situation permits it.
Expected openers: KL Rahul and Shikhar Dhawan
India's expected openers for the Tests
Mayank Agarwal made his Test debut in the most daunting circumstances. At a packed MCG in the Boxing Day Test of 2018, he scored a gritty 76 and emerged as one of the shining lights of the tour for India. He was also India's opener and highest scorer earlier this year in New Zealand.
As Sachin Tendulkar also said recently, he is expected to retain his place in the side. The main conundrum will be to choose his partner from Prithvi Shaw, KL Rahul and Shubhman Gill.
Gill's chances of making a debut are the least among the three, at least as an opener. KL Rahul last played a Test match in August 2019 while Shaw was Agarwal's partner in New Zealand. Although, going by recent form, Rahul is a far cry ahead of Shaw, and his camaraderie with Agarwal could do wonders for India.
It could all boil down to what combination the Indian think-tank will want to play, more so with Kohli's departure after the first Test opening up another place at number four. We could see Shaw and Agarwal open with Rahul being asked to fill Kohli's shoes in the middle-order.
Expected openers: Mayank Agarwal and Prithvi Shaw