India vs West Indies: With KL Rahul snapping at his heels, Shikhar Dhawan gets breathing space

Virat Kohli said it will be a ‘tough call’ to choose between Shikhar Dhawan and KL Rahul. (Source: File)

It seems there’s an invisible sword of uncertainty hanging over Shikhar Dhawan’s neck, whenever he walks out into the middle or even in the nets. The rapid strides KL Rahul has made since his Test debut last year, and which has transformed into shorter versions too, has shaken Dhawan’s footing at the top of the order, combined with the latter’s own middling returns in the South Africa series and the limited-over installments subsequently.

So ahead of the series, the only uncertainty pertaining to the batting order was Dhawan’s fate, that whether Kohli and the team management would insist with the mercurial southpaw or whether they would prefer the stability of young Rahul, an investment for the future as well. So it was as invariable as inevitable that Kohli would be probed further on this aspect. Kohli is not foolish enough to disclose anything definite about this, but he admitted it was a dilemma. “It’s a very strange situation. If you speak about Rahul and someone like Shikhar, it’s very difficult to take a call upfront in the first match of the series,” he confided.

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He then launched a staunch defence of Dhawan, subtly hinting that at least for the first half of the Test series, Dhawan is the preferred ally to Murali Vijay. “In international cricket you need to understand one thing. You cannot count players out because of one series. Someone like Shikhar is a very dominating player. He can dominate sessions and bring you into the Test match, especially in conditions like West Indies. We know how he played in Sri Lanka, scored a very quick hundred and then got injured unfortunately. So that’s what I mean that you can’t count a guy out like Shikhar because of a couple of innings here and there. We need to give the guys a decent run and we know that if something goes wrong we have a quality player like Rahul waiting in the wings,” he emphasised.

To balance his views, and to not concede an impression that he is overtly favouring Dhawan, he praised Rahul. “Rahul obviously has improved by leaps and bounds as a cricketer in the last three-four months. He has established himself as the third opener. He’s a regular in the Test side, played in Sri Lanka and scored runs there. He is as solid as anyone in world cricket now and he will get his chances,” he pointed out.

Then Kohli explained his own situation, the hard decisions a captain has to take. “That’s why the job is not easy, for the management and captain together. We need to take hard calls at times. But it’s for the players to understand that equal opportunity will be given to everyone. It’s that whoever starts the Test series has an edge over somebody who has to wait for his chance. But at the same time, we have four Test matches and you will get a chance at some stage,” he stated.

Not just with picking Dhawan ahead of Rahul or vice versa, he has to make a few tough decisions on the bowling front as well. While it’s almost certain that Mohammad Shami would partner Ishant Sharma, he’s unlikely to stuff three spinners into the team, which means either Amit Mishra or Ravindra Jadeja, both of whom having reaped a rich harvest against South Africa, has to be overlooked.

But Kohli claims his teammates aren’t a particularly grumpy lot. “Basically, the main motive of the team is that we go with horses for courses. We see the conditions and the way the pitch is going to behave we pick up the best eleven, especially the bowling department. We specialise in choosing people according to the way the wicket is going to behave maybe on the third and fourth day as well. So you need to keep everything in consideration. The best part is that everyone’s bought into the idea, and it’s actually not hard to inform the players that someone else is playing for them. They understand that it’s eventually for the larger reason, which is to make the team win. So everyone’s at peace with that, the vision we have for the team,” he explained.