Adelaide: Out-of-form opener Shikhar Dhawan's place in the playing XI will be one of the primary discussion point when the Indian team management zeroes in on the playing XI against arch rivals Pakistan in the opening game of the ICC Cricket World Cup, here on Sunday.
If one goes by the cues from the nets, then Dhawan doesn't look a likely starter for the crunch match. In fact, the Delhi opener wasn't even present during the major part of India's two and half hours of gruelling training session at the Adelaide Oval while the other players went through the grind with a lot of intensity.
Save Dhawan, almost all the batsmen did their regular routines. Batting against pace in one of the nets, batting against spin in another while also taking the throwdowns from Raghavendra and Sanjay Bangar.
While the bowlers did separate spot bowling training inside the main stadium, Dhawan wasn't seen anywhere during the first two hours. However he did come in the end and took throwdowns from Bangar. Normally, the ones who bat last in the nets are those, who don't figure in the playing XI.
It is not a clear indication but scores of 2, 1, 8, 38, 59, 4 (last two being warm-up games) doesn't augur well for Dhawan, who has struggled against away going deliveries with little clue about his off-stump.
Dhoni, however, chose to defend Dhawan vehemently at the press conference when asked if he has thought anything about Dhawan's form. "We have not though anything on those lines about Shikhar Dhawan. Tomorrow if someone suggests that Mohammed Shami should open the batting in place of Dhawan, do we pay heed to such suggestions,? said Dhoni.
In case Dhawan doesn't play, then the mantle of facing new ball alongside Rohit Sharma would go to Ajinkya Rahane, who is a back-up opener in the tournament. Ambati Rayudu should be Dhawan's replacement in the playing XI but to be fair to the Hyderabadi, despite his plucky 50 against Australia in the warm-up game, he has had a fair bit of struggle against rising deliveries.
The other interesting aspect would be the bowling combination. To play two spinners or with all-rounder Stuart Binny as a back-up seam option or straightaway go with three-pronged seam attack that includes Bhuvneshwar Kumar, Umesh Yadav along with either Mohammed Shami or Mohit Sharma.
In case of two spinners, Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja are automatic choices as Dhoni made it clear that he considers Saurashtra all-rounder, a better bet compared to young Axar Patel.
"Well, I think you are right when it comes to weighing them (Jadeja and Axar) on paper (on their skills sets). They weigh almost the same. But I feel Jadeja is a slightly better batsman. The reason being not only his domestic record but also he has got more exposure to international cricket. He has faced on more than a few occasions bowlers who bowl quick, 140 plus, and he has played in different conditions, in South Africa.
"About Axar, I feel actually, he's bowling really well. That's a big positive for us. He's definitely someone who's bowling well. But he needs a bit more game under his belt when it comes to converting those backing abilities that he has. He'll have to play a few more bowlers who are decently quick, especially when he goes in and he's supposed to play the big strokes."
Now if a situation arises that one specialist spinner will play, off-spinner Ashwin will hold an advantage considering that Pakistan team are expected to field two left-handers in their top order in opener Nasir Jamshed and all-rounder Harris Sohail.
Whether it is 3-1 or 2-2 will be known tomorrow but Dhoni gave a very interesting explanation about his take on the pitch. "Well, we'll wait and watch, as I said, because the wicket is damp, so no point in looking at the wicket right now, but what the groundsman has said is it will look quite similar to the Australian game that we played, not the Afghanistan game, so we'll wait and watch. We still have time."