With the suspension of Indian Premier League 2021, the Indian team is left with limited scope to prepare for the T20 World Cup which is scheduled to begin in October this year.

Led by Virat Kohli, India are scheduled to play the ICC World Test Championship final against New Zealand in June, followed by a five-Test series against England in August-September. There isn’t any limited-overs match scheduled for that tour.

On Sunday, Sourav Ganguly informed that India are likely to play a One-Day International and T20I series each against Sri Lanka in July. The team will comprise of white-ball specialists and will provide much-needed game-time to the likes of Shikhar Dhawan, Prithvi Shaw, Suryakumar Yadav, Hardik Pandya, and more.

However, the Sri Lanka tour is yet to be finalised and with no confirmation on the completion of IPL 2021, the performances in the first half of this year’s IPL could play a key role in determining the squad for the T20 World Cup.

In terms of the opening combination for batting, there were a number of players who made a mark in the first half of IPL 2021. Before the season began, in the home T20I series against England, India seemed to have settled in on Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma as the openers.

But as things stand, do these senior pros form the first-choice combination?

Here’s a look at the top Indian performers in the opening slot in the first half of IPL 2021:

Top run-scorers among India openers in IPL 2021

POS Player Inns NO Runs HS Avg SR 100 50 4s 6s
1 Dhawan 8 1 380 92 54.28 134.27 0 3 43 8
2 Rahul 7 2 331 91* 66.20 136.21 0 4 27 16
4 Shaw 8 0 308 82 38.50 166.48 0 3 37 12
6 Agarwal 7 1 260 99* 43.33 141.30 0 2 24 11
8 Rohit 7 0 250 63 35.71 128.20 0 1 18 11
15 Kohli 7 1 198 72* 33.00 121.47 0 1 21 4
16 Gaikwad 7 0 196 75 28.00 128.94 0 2 25 5
17 Padikkal 6 1 195 101* 39.00 152.34 1 0 22 9

Shikhar Dhawan

Scores in IPL 2021

Opponent Score
CSK 85 (54)
RR 9 (11)
PBKS 92 (49)
MI 45 (42)
SRH 28 (26)
RCB 6 (7)
KKR 46 (47)
PBKS 69* (47)

He was, perhaps, the most impressive Indian batsman in the season. Dhawan got 4 off 12 in the first T20I against England and was dropped from the XI for the remainder of the five-match series. However, he turned things around quickly to score 169 runs in the following three-match ODI series and simply didn’t look back.

The left-hander was in a class of his own in the first half of IPL 2021 and was a big reason why Delhi Capitals were at the top of the points table when the season was suspended. He showed his wide range of strokes against both pace and spin and his willingness to take risks, something he spoke about on a couple of occasions, paid great dividends to his team.

Dhawan is probably in the form of his life at the moment and the surety with which he scored runs is a promising sign for the Indian team. Him being a left-hander is, of course, a plus too. It will be tough to ignore him as a first-choice opener for the T20 World Cup.

KL Rahul

Scores in IPL 2021

Opponent Score
RR 91 (50)
CSK 5 (7)
DC 61 (51)
SRH 4 (6)
MI 60* (52)
KKR 19 (20)
RCB 91* (57)

Having finished as the top scorer in the previous edition, Rahul was among the runs this time around as well. He got a 62* and a 108 in the ODI series against England and carried forward that form to the IPL.

The right-hander played a few big knocks in the season but just like last year, his strike-rate didn’t inspire much confidence. There is no denying his immense class as a batsman and the explosive shots in his arsenal, but his propensity to take time before freeing up is a cause for concern.

In the shortest format these days, it can be argued that there is no space for an anchor in the batting department. Teams go really hard in the last quarter of an innings and often, it is the powerplay that proves to be the difference. With batsmen lower down expected to hit from the get-go, it is imperative for the openers to make the most of the field restrictions and provide the necessary momentum. Rahul has struggled to do that on most occasions and unless he rectifies this, it’ll be difficult for him to find a spot in the Indian XI.

Prithvi Shaw

Scores in IPL 2021

Opponent Score
CSK 72 (38)
RR 2 (5)
PBKS 32 (17)
MI 7 (5)
SRH 53 (39)
RCB 21 (18)
KKR 82 (41)
PBKS 39 (22)

If there is one batsman who can provide a truly explosive start for India, it has to be Shaw. The right-hander came into IPL 2021 in fine form having set the Vijay Hazare Trophy ablaze, and he showed a refreshing sense of maturity to dig deeper and keep going in the T20 tournament as well.

Shaw started the season with a match-winning 72 against CSK and went on to hit two more half-centuries. As Brendon McCullum said after his devastating knock against KKR, the 21-year-old is the embodiment of a modern-day T20 batsman. Rather than looking for a single after hitting a boundary, he keeps attacking and has the ability to completely deflate the opposition.

A lot was said after Shaw was dropped from the Indian Test team in Australia. He worked hard on his game thereafter and has put in a number of impressive performances. However, the fact remains that he has been getting his runs on Indian pitches. He is yet to be tested by genuine swing and seam. If the T20 World Cup is moved to England, Shaw’s selection could prove to be tricky. If it is held in the subcontinent, though, he will be a major asset to the squad.

Rohit Sharma

Scores in IPL 2021

Opponent Score
RCB 19 (15)
KKR 43 (32)
SRH 32 (25)
DC 44 (30)
PBKS 63 (52)
RR 14 (17)
CSK 35 (24)

His case is quite similar to that of Rahul’s. Rohit’s talent needs no introduction, it was there for all to see in his 34-ball 64 that helped India clinch the T20I series against England, but it’s his strike-rate that is often the concern.

Rohit has a reputation of getting his eye in before cutting loose and making up for lost time. This approach has been mighty effective in ODI cricket over the years, but one wonders if there’s place for it in the shortest format as we move forward.

The right-hander got a number of starts, even as his team struggled, in the first half of IPL 2021, but he could manage just one half-century. It’s highly unlikely that Rohit won’t make it to the XI for the T20 World Cup. He remains one of the biggest match-winners in world cricket. However, just like Rahul and the man next on this list, he will need to go harder in the powerplay.

Virat Kohli

Scores in IPL 2021

Opponent Score
MI 33 (29)
SRH 33 (29)
KKR 5 (6)
RR 72* (47)
CSK 8 (7)
DC 12 (11)
PBKS 35 (34)

The India captain had made a big claim at the end of the T20I series against England. He opened the batting in the fifth and final game, got a match-winning 80* off 52, bagged the player of the series award, and said: “I will definitely like to partner Rohit at the top. The other guys feel a lot more confident when one of us is still in and is set. It augurs well for the team.”

Kohli opened the batting in all seven games played by RCB in IPL 2021, but the only noteworthy score he managed was an unbeaten 72 off 47 against Mumbai Indians. He got starts on three other occasions but couldn’t covert them into significant scores.

Again, Kohli is perhaps the finest white-ball batsman of his generation and will, in all likelihood, lead the Indian team at this year’s T20 World Cup. But with the firepower and depth in Indian batting, his inclination to be an anchor is hardly justified. Like Rahul and Rohit, his tendency to consume too many deliveries in the powerplay doesn’t help and adds pressure on the middle order. It isn’t as certain as it was a couple of months ago that Kohli will open. No matter where he slots in, though, he will need to figure out a way to start stronger.

Make no mistake, all five front-runners for the opening slots in India’s T20 World Cup side are high-class players. But as of now, they can be divided into two distinct groups. While Dhawan and Shaw are more likely to take risks and provide quick starts, the other three tend to look at building a long innings.

With Kohli being the captain, he will find a spot somewhere at the top of the order. What about Rohit and Rahul then? Do India want an anchor, let alone two or three? Initially, when T20 was more like an extension of ODI cricket, it seemed fine to have one such batsman in the side. But now, T20 has come a long way and is its own format... plays by a very different set of rules. And it is an extreme format. Are Kohli, Rohit and Rahul extreme enough?