Former India batsman VVS Laxman believes KL Rahul should partner with Rohit Sharma at the top of the order in the upcoming T20 International series against England, with Shikhar Dhawan being the backup opener in the squad.

Speaking on Star Sports’ shows Cricket Connected and Game Plan, Laxman said that with the T20 World Cup scheduled for later this year, it is important for the Indian team to give the combination of Rohit and Rahul a long run at the top of the order and allow them to gain confidence.

“It will be a tough question, as far as the selection of the second opener is concerned,” said Laxman.

“There’s no doubt about that because Rohit Sharma is an automatic choice in white ball cricket. I will still go with KL Rahul, because over the last few months and years I think the Indian team management went with KL Rahul as an opening batsman and he has done really well in that position,” he added.

“Yes, Shikhar Dhawan had a fantastic IPL, the way he batted top of the order, scoring centuries for Delhi capitals and then he’s in tremendous form for Delhi in the Vijay Hazare, where he scored a big 100 in that tournament as well. With KL Rahul as an opening combination you want someone who’s second. Keeping in mind the T20 World Cup, you have to identify who your openers are going to be there in the World Cup and back them; don’t chop and change. You have someone as experienced as Shikhar Dhawan, who can be the backup opener in case one of these openers Rohit Sharma/ KL Rahul gets injured or lose their form,” Laxman explained.

Laxman also expressed happiness at Bhuvneshwar Kumar’s return to the Indian team. The right-arm pacer last played an international game in December 2019 and was out of action for a long time due to a thigh muscle injury.

“There’s a lot of depth in the Indian pace department, we saw this even in the Test match cricket in their tour to Australia. I still feel great and happy that Bhuvaneshwar Kumar has regained fitness because he’s such an important bowler, especially in white ball cricket for India, because apart from Jasprit Bumrah, if there’s anyone in that Indian bowling line-up who has got the experience of bowling not only with the new ball but also at the death,” said Laxman.

“For him to be 100% fit, I think a lot of priority and prominence has to be given to manage the workload and the injury of Bhuvaneshwar Kumar. I hope that he doesn’t play all the five matches. I think he can be rested in between probably three matches out of the five matches is what I see or expect Bhuvaneshwar Kumar to play. He is such an important member, we have to look after Bhuvaneshwar Kumar the fast bowler, because he will be playing a very important role, come November, when the World Cup will happen.”

Reflecting on the challenge that England’s bowling attack will pose for Virat Kohli and Co in the T20 series, the 46-year-old said that he expects a tough battle for the hosts.

“I definitely think it’s a strong fast bowling unit as far as England are concerned because they have got a lot of variations; they’ve got pace in the form of Mark Wood and Archer. Good death bowling options in the form of Jordan; Ben Stokes can be their all-rounder. But their spin department looks a little weak compared to their fast bowling department,” he said.

“But as such, I feel that Virat Kohli is a class batsman, he’s an outstanding batsman and with depth and quality in the Indian batting line-up, I think he should go and express himself. It’s not necessary for him to play the anchor role, because we know that he’s a stroke player. If he plays with positive intent, if he plays his high percentage shots, not only his strike rate will be high, but his consistency also will be there for everyone to see - he’s a match winner. With Rohit Sharma and KL Rahul opening the innings, and then you have got Shreyas Iyer, Hardik Pandya, Rishabh Pant, I think they have a lot of depth. So, Virat Kohli should go out and express himself and play with lot of freedom, and that’s when he’s very dangerous.”

Laxman also said that India have a great opportunity to test their bench strength in the coming months as they prepare for the T20 World Cup.

“They know that they are the No 1 T20 playing nation in world cricket, we saw what they did in the 50-over format - how much they are focused on winning the World Cup. I think, it’s the same goal for Morgan and the England team. It’s a great opportunity for Team India because you are playing five matches in your home condition, followed by IPL and Asia Cup before the T20 World Cup. It’s a great opportunity to test your bench, which is why I feel the squad is very formidable - as far as the Indian squad is concerned,” he said.

Here’s VVS Laxman’s probable India XI for the first T20I against England:

Rohit Sharma
KL Rahul
Virat Kohli
Shreyas Iyer
Rishabh Pant
Hardik Pandya
Axar Patel
Bhuvaneshwar Kumar
Deepak Chahar
Yuzvendra Chahal
T Natarajan