India must have looked at their three-day practice match against Essex as an opportunity to test their skills which would have helped them choose their best playing XI when the first of the five Tests starts in Birmingham on August 1. Instead, after the match ended in a draw they are left with a number of unwanted headaches and questions regarding team selection. With Shikhar Dhawan and Cheteshwar Pujara failing to find form with the bat and the three spinners - R Ashwin, Kuldeep Yadav and R Jadeja - going wicketless in the match, the Indian thinktank has its task cut out for the next three days.
In this article we will be focusing on Dhawan's poor outing and whether KL Rahul who scored a fifty and an unbeaten 36 in the match should join Murali Vijay at the top to open the Indian innings. Dhawan bagged a pair in the match while lasting just four balls across two innings. Ahead of a big series such as the one to follow, these are not the kind of numbers an Indian team must expect from its first choice opener when they are looking to win a Test series against the hosts in their own backyard.
The left-right opening combination of Dhawan and Vijay has been the preferred by the Indian team on several occasions in the past but considering the sublime form that Rahul has shown since the IPL started, the Karnataka batsman is now making a strong case for a permanent place in the playing XI. In the practice match against Essex, Rahul showed great composure and awareness in compiling a serene 58 in the first innings while hitting 12 fours. He could well have scored his second fifty of the match had the weather gods not decided to bring a swift end to the game.
Though the left-hander from Delhi hit a swift century against Afghanistan during India's last Test, his susceptibility to the moving ball against Essex is an indication that he needs to focus on some technical tweaks in his batting. Rahul, on the other hand, looks more and more like a complete batsman with every innings he plays. Even after being dropped in the first innings of the warm-up game, he showed he can learn on the go and soon found rhythm in his batting.
What is even a more encouraging factor in favour of Rahul is that he batted in the middle order during the first innings which not only shows his adaptability but also presents an opportunity to play him at No. 3 if the team management finds Pujara too defensive for that role.
In a recent interview with IndiaTv, former Indian captain Sourav Ganguly, who retired with a batting average of 65.35 in Tests in England, said that he Rahul and Vijay should be the first choice openers in Tests for India.
"KL Rahul and M Vijay should open in Test cricket. Pujara at 3, Kohli at 4, Rahane at 5, Saha at 6, Pandya at 7," said the Prince of Kolkata.
Since his horrendous debut against Australia in 2014, Rahul hasn't look back. Beset by injuries throughout his career, he finally seems to be making the sort of impact he was expected to, with the bat in hand. Therefore it seems the right time to give the flamboyant batsman a longer run at the opening slot while giving Dhawan time to tweak his gameplan against the vagaries of the swinging ball.