Vijay has long ceased to be a credible part of India's one-day plans. He has a batting average of 19.46 in the format. However, long after he thought he was done with England, the Tamil Nadu right-hander learnt that his services were on standby again after Rohit Sharma, India's opening bat in ODIs, fractured his bowling hand's middle finger and was ruled out of the rest of the series.
Rohit, who made a crucial fifty in the last match at Cardiff, appeared to have hurt his finger while fielding at SWALEC Stadium on Wednesday. In the 35th over of the England innings, he dropped Chris Woakes when the latter played a full-blooded pull towards midwicket. He immediately rushed off the field.
India went on to win the match by a massive margin of 133 runs (D/L), and suddenly it seemed that everything was finally falling into place for the visitors. But with the BCCI confirming the extent of Rohit's injury on Friday, India were out of their comfort zone almost as soon as they stepped in it.
Who then should open with Shikhar Dhawan, who himself is struggling rather badly For it was unlikely that Vijay would make it in time for the third ODI which meant India would have to make do with a makeshift opener. And if one of the middle-order batsmen was shoe-horned into the top slot, who would come in his place lower down These questions were likely to have dominated the team meeting on match eve.
For Saturday's match, it seemed likely that Ajinkya Rahane would open the innings with Dhawan. Rahane made his one day international debut as an opener three years ago in England. And he was one of the silver linings of that exceptionally gloomy series. However, after a string of poor scores, he was dropped from the team, and made his way back only as a middle-order batsman. But in Rohit Sharma's absence in Bangladesh in June, Rahane again opened and struck a half century. At any rate, it's a familiar position for Rahane, who is a regular opener for his IPL team, Rajasthan Royals.
Kohli for the job
Another batsman who has opened in the ODIs in recent times is Virat Kohli. He came out to bat with Rohit in the fourth ODI against New Zealand earlier this year. However, the experiment flopped spectacularly Kohli made only two and was promptly abandoned. In January Kohli was in rich form when he was promoted; it's unlikely that India would repeat it now that he is going through the worst patch of his career.
Promoting Rahane, though, would leave a vacuum in the middle order. It will make for a strong case for Ambati Rayudu to come back into the XI after he was replaced by Suresh Raina in the last match. Raina, speaking in the pre-match press conference, didn't give any reasonable hint as to who might open tomorrow. "Opening in England is always a difficult job. But we have a lot of youngsters and options to choose from. Sanju Samson is here and we also have Ambati Rayudu," Raina said.
Whosoever comes in will have decent-sized boots to fill. Rohit might not have been the most consistently explosive opener around, but in the last one year he has been very consistent. He has made that position his own, averaging 43.20 in 39 innings, with two centuries (including a double) and 11 fifties. Elsewhere, he averages 31.72 in 79 innings. He is not a born opener, but he has made himself one. An effective one.
And it was evident in the last innings as well when his scrappy half-century, and Rahane's under-the-radar 41, prepared the base for India's big total.
But one man's injury is another man's opportunity. Rohit seized his chance when he was promoted up the order for the Champions Trophy in England. A year later in the same country, can his replacement do the same