Shikhar Dhawan ruled out: An opening to Team India

Shamik Chakrabarty
Shikhar Dhawan is out of the T20 series against India because of a gash on his left knee. (File)

Shikhar Dhawan is out of the upcoming T20 international series against West Indies. The gash he suffered on his left knee during a Syed Mushtaq Ali Trophy game against Maharashtra last week hasn’t healed completely and the latest assessment by the BCCI medical team suggested the opener “needs some more time for his stitches to come off”. Sanju Samson has been included in the squad as Dhawan’s replacement for the three T20Is.

Given the indifferent form that the left-hander is going through of late, his unavailability is not a big blow to the Indian team. KL Rahul is in the squad and he will open with Rohit Sharma. For Dhawan, however, the injury came at a wrong time. The bench strength of this Indian team keeps almost every player on his toes, unless he is a Virat Kohli, Rohit or Jasprit Bumrah.

From that point of view, repeated injuries have been making the job a little difficult for Dhawan. One assurance that Dhawan has from the medical team is that this is not a big injury to be worried over. But it is learnt that the selection committee and the team management are more concerned about his form, strike-rate to be precise. “His strike-rate (in T20Is) has dipped from 140s to 110s. It’s still ok for 50-over cricket, but in T20s, when you are batting at the top, with the advantage of Powerplay, you expect better strike-rates from an opener,” said a source.

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Dhawan has featured in eight T20Is after the World Cup, scoring 194 runs at an average of a little over 24. Contribution-wise, it’s not bad. In the Caribbean tour though, his strike-rate was 96.42. Against South Africa at home, it improved considerably to 135.71. But against Bangladesh, where Dhawan had a bigger responsibility, with Kohli rested, his strike-rate once again came down to 107.05.

To be fair, Dhawan has been unlucky with injuries. He scored a scintillating hundred against Australia at the World Cup. But a fractured thumb then abruptly cut short his tournament. Both team management and the selection committee are of the view that the stop-start stint is affecting his rhythm. For any cricketer it’s not easy to get into the groove straightaway after coming back from an injury. The selectors and the team management are hoping that Dhawan gets his rhythm back. At the same time, they understand that it would be difficult for him until he is playing a continuous series of matches – Dhawan is not a part of the Test squad. Ideally, the next year’s IPL is the tournament that should help the 33-year-old regain his mojo, for he will get the opportunity to play a series of high-intensity matches at a stretch. Given Dhawan’s record in big tournaments, he firmly remains the most preferred choice to partner Rohit at the top in the next year’s T20 World Cup in Australia.

The Indian Express understands that Dhawan would be available for the three-match ODI series that follows the T20Is. The T20I series is commencing on December 6 at Hyderabad, while the first ODI at Chennai is on December 15. However, Dhawan might have to play a domestic game for Delhi before the ODI series to prove his match fitness. “This selection committee has always maintained that process. In Wriddhiman Saha’s case also, he had to play domestic cricket for Bengal before returning to the Test side,” said the source. With the Ranji Trophy starting from December 9, Dhawan could be asked to play Delhi’s first match against Kerala before joining the ODI squad.

Iyer, long-term No. 4

It is also learnt that the selectors and the team management have identified Shreyas Iyer as the long-term No. 4. Both are happy to see that the Mumbai batsman is “slowly settling down” into that role. The dressing-room looks at him as a game-changer in the shorter formats. The final T20I against Bangladesh at Nagpur was a case in point. In the 15th over, with the hosts going at a modest run-rate of a little over seven per over, Iyer had changed the complexion of the game with three consecutive sixes against Afif Hossain. It was a must-win game for India and that 20-run over was a turning point.

No. 4 had been a problem area for the team in limited-overs cricket, so much so that it eventually cost India the World Cup. Efforts intensified to find a proper No. 4 after the ICC event and Iyer’s performance in the ODIs in the West Indies encouraged the team management and the selectors to identify the 24-year-old as the long-term No. 4, both for T20Is and the 50-over format.

Iyer scored 136 runs in two innings in the Caribbean, batting at No. 5. Rishabh Pant batted at No. 4. Iyer has earned the promotion by dint of his performance. “This confidence has come from those knocks in the West Indies,” said the source. According to him, the No. 5 slot in the home series against West Indies will rotate between Manish Pandey and Pant.

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Young ones

Going ahead, the selection committee has identified the back-ups for the opening slot as well and Prithvi Shaw and Shubman Gill, this paper understands, are in the list. Gill is widely considered to be the future of Indian batting. With regards to Shaw, a BCCI functionary said: “Shaw is a top talent. At the moment, he is not in the best of shape physically. If the period of ban that he has served is not changing him, then there’s something seriously wrong.”

Saha undergoes surgery

Meanwhile, Wriddhiman Saha has undergone surgery after sustaining a fracture on his right ring finger during the pink-ball Test against Bangladesh at Eden Gardens. The BCCI has informed that the wicketkeeper “will soon commence his rehabilitation at the National Cricket Academy”. Given that India’s next long-form assignment is in the third week of February, Saha is expected to be fit for the two-Test series in New Zealand.