India have three openers in KL Rahul, Shikhar Dhawan and Abhinav Mukund for the three-match Test series against Sri Lanka starting July 26.
The last time India toured Sri Lanka in 2015, which was also the first away assignment for newly-appointed captain Virat Kohli, India fought back and won the Test series 2-1.
They lost the first Test at Galle after which India went on a winning spree with six Test series victories in a row, five of them at home.
Cut to 2017, a lot has happened lately off the cricket field. The coach-captain saga resulting in Anil Kumble’s resignation, followed by Ravi Shastri’s appointment as head coach.
Shastri starts his stint with an away series being the first assignment. The team for the three-match Test series was announced on July 17, but a notable omission was Murali Vijay whose wrist injury paved way for Shikhar Dhawan who had last played a Test for India in 2016 against New Zealand in a home series.
In 2017, Vijay had played four Tests, scoring 228 runs at an average of 32.57 with the highest score of 108. His away records are less better than his home form. He has played 24 Tests away from home scoring 1548 runs at an average of 36.85 against his overall average of 39.62.
Vijay played his last Test match at Dharamshala against Australia and returned with scores of 11 and 8 from two innings.
In the last five Test matches between February and March 2017, India’s first-choice openers were Rahul and Vijay and Abhinav Mukund being the reserve opener if the other two regulars missed out due to injuries. However, Dhawan’s poor form in the longer format ruled him out of contention.
But with first-choice opener, Vijay out of the series gives Dhawan and Mukund an opportunity to prove their worth in the longer format of the game. Mukund was part of the original Test squad for Sri Lanka tour while Dhawan was drafted in as a replacement. Dhawan has the pedigree in the Test format and in the recent past has been in a rich vein of form in the shorter formats.
“Abhinav (Mukund) is there, he has played a lot of domestic cricket. Shikhar got a hundred here last time and then he had to miss a couple of games,” Indian skipper Virat Kohli said on the opening combination.
Vijay’s Test average is 39.62 while Dhawan’s is 38.53. There’s hardly any difference on that front despite Dhawan having played only 23 Tests in comparison to Vijay’s 51.
Dhawan was in blistering form in the recently-concluded ICC Champions Trophy in England. He won the Golden Bat award for the second time in the Champions Trophy. He had earlier won it in 2013 after scoring 363 runs from five innings at an average of 90.75 and a strike rate of 101.39.
These numbers prompted the selectors to take note for his inclusion in the Test squad. He has proved his mettle in the shorter formats and this Sri Lanka tour gives him a chance to put forward a strong case for a place in India’s Test squad.
In his last Test against New Zealand in 2016, he could only manage scores of 1 and 17. He will surely look to make it a thing of the past.
Moving on to reserve opener Mukund, who doesn’t have much international Test experience, if given a chance, he has the potential to score big. In his six Test matches, he has the highest score of 62 runs.
With age on his side, there is scope for improvement but won’t be getting a longer rope with other talented openers from the domestic cricket waiting in the wings.