As partnership breakers go this must be the cruellest: Shikhar Dhawan and Rohit Sharma, currently the world's most productive One Day International opening pair has been split by an injury to the former.
The duo had combined brilliantly to cream opponent bowlers for 4681 runs in 103 matches and only opening pairs of the past, Sachin Tendulkar-Sourav Ganguly (6609 runs); Adam Gilchrist-Matthew Hayden (5372) and Gordon Greenidge-Desmond Haynes (5150), had been more productive.
Additionally, injury-sidelined Dhawan was a prolific ODI scorer in English conditions, with his 1101 runs in 19 matches coming at a terrific average of 65.76 and an equally impressive strike rate of 101.28.
Given these statistics and also his record of being a big-match performer in ICC events (T20 World Cup and Champions Trophy matches, 1238 runs; six tons, 4 fifties) the Indian team was naturally reluctant to send back their star performer despite the injury sustained to his left thumb.
Dhawan, during the course of his match-winning 117 against Australia at The Oval on Sunday, was hit on the thumb by a snorter from Pat Cummins, the Aussie pace bowler. Luckily the blow was on the dormant hand and not on his leading hand. The top hand is the one which holds the bat firmly and any severe impact on it could jam the hand between the uncompromising bat handle and the hard cricket ball and crush the bone.
But because the blow was to his left hand a reprieved Dhawan could bat on, albeit after medical attention. Had the thumb been broken, the attendant swelling would not have allowed him to slip off and slip on the glove at every opportunity. Still, post his superb knock, Dhawan felt the after-effects of the blow sufficiently enough to warrant a substitute.
A statement from the team management said that "Dhawan is under the observation of the BCCI medical team. The team management has decided that Mr Dhawan will continue to be in England..." The statement added that he had "sustained an injury in the back of his left hand in the region between the index finger and thumb..."
The team management is confident that nothing is broken in that fleshy part of his hand, though gripping the bat handle could be painful at the moment. This is the reason they have retained him in England.
Here it must be pointed out that Dhawan and Sharma, besides being a left-right combination which tests rival bowlers' ability to constantly adjust line and length, also enjoy great compatibility in their running between the wickets. They are aware of each other's strength and are confident enough to respond to calls for quick running between the wickets. It is unlikely that the talented KL Rahul, the obvious opening batsman replacement, would have a similarly finely-tuned understanding with Sharma.
But if Dhawan is to miss the next couple of matches, on Thursday against New Zealand and on Sunday against arch-rivals Pakistan, Rahul is the opening batsman cover provided by the selectors and he will be keen to prove his credentials.
Newspaper reports in India claim that Rishabh Pant will be flown to England at the earliest in an effort to get him acclimatised to English conditions. However, he will not be part of the official 15-member squad.
Pant, a naturally aggressive left-hand batsman has had enormous success in England when he turned out for the India A and India teams in the past. But, his obvious talent with the bat notwithstanding, one of the main reasons why he was not accommodated in the World Cup team was because of his poor fielding.
Pant behind the stumps as wicket-keeper is one thing. But Pant as the outfielder would be quite a letdown in a tournament where top class fielding could make the difference between victory and defeat.
Another option staring at the team management could be Ajinkya Rahane who is currently playing for Hampshire in English County Cricket. He recently scored a century against a bowling attack which included Stuart Broad and Jake Ball. Importantly Rahane is an excellent fielder. Besides, he could be fitted in as opener while Rahul could continue to bat at number four.
Rahane has been with the Indian team for a while now and is aware of the dynamics of the side. After all, he was the vice-captain of the team not so long ago.
But it is unlikely that the team management would include Rahane or Pant in the squad anytime soon. The two wins, against strong teams South Africa and Australia, has put India in a strong position. Of course, the vagaries of English weather could still play havoc with the fortunes of strong teams. But two wins out of two under the belt leaves the team a lot of headroom to manoeuvre with.
In all probability, Dhawan may not be needed even for the 22 June match against Afghanistan. The matches against West Indies, England Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, on 27 June, 30 June, 2 July and 6 July respectively, provide ample time for his recovery before the semi-finals (9 and 11 July) and the final (14 July).
The injury scare though has exposed the fragility of players and the team which depends on specific stars to pilot its course. It also underlines the need to keep back-up players on their toes not just in terms of acclimatization but also in exposure to competitive play.
The World Cup is a long drawn tournament and injuries are a threat that the team will have to live with on a day-to-day basis. Verily it would need the focus, fitness and stamina of a marathon runner to last the course.