Opening conundrum: Four combinations available to India ahead of 2023 ODI World Cup

A look at the possible opening combinations for India at the ICC Men’s Cricket World Cup 2023, with the tournament less than a year away.

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Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have opened in just 12 ODIs since the 2019 World Cup.

India, the two-time ODI World Cup winners, begin their preparations for the next edition with quite a few questions ahead of them. One of the primary ones, more so following the recent series defeat in Bangladesh, is with regards to the opening combination.

While Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma have a glittering history ever since they started off during the victorious ICC Champions Trophy 2013 campaign in England, the emergence of Shubman Gill and Ishan Kishan and their own patchy returns in recent times has brought about the prospects for a change.

Here’s a look at the four opening combinations available to India ahead of 2023 ODI World Cup:

Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan

Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have amassed 5148 runs at 45.55 as an opening pair till date, an aggregate exceeded by only three other legendary pairs of Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, Adam Gilchrist and Matthew Hayden and Gordon Greenidge and Desmond Haynes till date. Their count of 18 century stands is bettered only by Tendulkar and Ganguly.

Having excelled individually and as a pair in ICC tournaments in the past, they might be primed to be India’s top-two at next year’s World Cup at home yet again, and their formidable pairing with No. 3 Virat Kohli further strengthens the case. However, fitness and recent form just have opened up opportunities for a young gun to replace either in the role.

Rohit Sharma and Shikhar Dhawan have opened in just 12 of the 43 ODIs played by India since the completion of the 2019 World Cup. They have aggregated 467 runs at 42.45 in the period.

Rohit Sharma and Shubman Gill

Shubman Gill, the Player of the Tournament in India’s U19 World Cup triumph in 2018, has had an impressive start to his ODI career, with 687 runs at 57.25 at a strike-rate of 99.13 till date. He has opened with skipper Rohit in Test cricket thus far, but is yet to do so in ODIs.

The assured defence and a free-flowing style against pace make Gill an ideal top-order candidate, and he could form a good pairing with Rohit at the top. India have emphasised on a right-left pairing in the past, and with a number of right-handers to follow later in the order, the Gill-Rohit pairing could be the most unlikely go-to option for the management from this list. However, the long-term success of like pairings across formats in the past might well tempt a contradiction.

Rohit Sharma and Ishan Kishan

Having stroked a blistering 210 against Bangladesh in Chattogram on Saturday, Ishan Kishan has made a strong case for himself in India’s future ODI plans. He’s aggressive by nature, and could be the ideal top-order basher India need in batting friendly conditions at home. 

Rohit and Kishan have been a part of two IPL winning campaigns for the Mumbai Indians as an opening pair, and though that is a different format, that they now have four ODI double hundreds between them offers assurance in terms of the appetite for long innings. Kishan also offers a back-up wicketkeeper option, should the need arise.

In the only ODI Rohit and Kishan have opened till date - against West Indies earlier this year - they added 84 in 13.1 overs to set up a six-wicket win.

Shikhar Dhawan and Shubman Gill

Perhaps the most outlandish option of the lot, given it’s sans the skipper, Rohit’s injury struggles in recent times doesn’t rule out the possibility. Shikhar Dhawan and Shubman Gill have formed the most successful opening pair for India since the 2019 World Cup, having aggregated 762 runs at 76.20 with four century stands at a fine run-rate of 5.44 from 11 innings.

"I am enjoying batting with the youngster and I feel like a youngster too. My rhythm with Gill has settled nicely. The way he bats and times the ball is lovely to watch,” Dhawan had said during the West Indies tour earlier this year. 

The consistency thus far, given a decent sample size, means that Gill and Dhawan can be a decent back-up option, should there be fitness concerns for Rohit in near future.

KL Rahul, who has largely batted at No.5 in ODIs over the last three years, could be another backup option to pair with any of the above four batters if India opt for experience at the top.