Shikhar Dhawan's future in international cricket: Will Gabbar go gentle into that good night?

New Zealand v India - 3rd ODI
Shikhar Dhawan is one of India's best ODI openers of all time, but his race seems run

Do not go gentle into that good night,

Old age should burn and rave at close of day;

Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

If you somehow had the time to make a list of all the English words you could associate with Shikhar Dhawan, you'd probably overlook "rage" without a second thought.

Dhawan is never raging; he's never even mildly displeased. The 37-year-old has always played his cricket with a smile on his face. His grace has shone through in a period where Team India have steadily gotten more aggressive and his teammates have shrugged off the veneer of inhibition to become outright bellicose on the field.

But it might just be time for Shikhar Dhawan to start catching up on his Dylan Thomas and refuse to go down without a fight. He's just had the worst year of his ODI career, and younger stars have moved faster, punched harder and been more switched on. Dhawan is staring at the end of his international cricket tunnel, where there's a rich legacy but not much light right now.

Drastic dip in numbers signal the approaching end of Shikhar Dhawan's run

New Zealand v India - 3rd ODI
New Zealand v India - 3rd ODI

With 6,793 runs in 164 ODI innings, Shikhar Dhawan is India's 10th-highest run-scorer in the format. Of the top 10 run-scorers, only Rohit Sharma, Virat Kohli, MS Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar have averaged more. Only Virender Sehwag and Kohli have scored their runs at a quicker pace. Most importantly, only four batters have tallied more runs while opening the batting.

Dhawan is a modern-day colossus, but one who isn't as modern as his peers anymore. Ishan Kishan, Shubman Gill, Ruturaj Gaikwad and maybe even Rishabh Pant are the pages in common between the book of fearless batting and the book of consistent run-scoring, and Dhawan has only had access to one of these. It has served him well over the years, but the pages are slowly disintegrating.

Dhawan's 22 innings of 2022 didn't make for good reading. He had an average of 34.4 and a strike rate of 74.22, both the lowest they've been since 2013. Not just the lowest, but also significantly lower than the previous worsts (36.44/91.81 in 2019 and 37.25/85.44 in 2015).

Surprisingly, those two were World Cup years. If there's one man who knows how to raise his game in a World Cup, it's Shikhar Dhawan. But when 2023 rolls around in a few weeks, will the veteran batter have enough left in him? More to the point, when the selectors pick the squad for the Sri Lanka ODI series in January, will they throw the old dog another bone?

Just last year, Dhawan led a depleted Indian side on a tour of Sri Lanka. Since then, he has led the Men in Blue in 15 international matches, most recently against New Zealand. But times have changed, and the southpaw is facing an ax he will see coming but can do nothing to avoid.

The men wielding the ax might be the selectors, and the team management might not have enough of a say in stopping it from swinging. The men who set it in motion, though...

Shubman Gill, Ishan Kishan and Co. are chasing Shikhar Dhawan, and they're faster

New Zealand v India - 2nd ODI
New Zealand v India - 2nd ODI

In 15 ODIs, Shubman Gill has scored 687 runs at an average of 57.25 and a strike rate of 99.13. His appetite for big scores has increased steadily since his debut, and he has shown a certain poise at the crease that cannot be replicated.

Ishan Kishan has smashed the fastest double century in the history of ODI cricket, achieving a feat that only three other Indians have managed. The young batter is a livewire on the field and plays a brand of cricket that not only appeals to the masses but has been adopted by some of the format's most successful teams.

Ruturaj Gaikwad has made a mockery of domestic 50-over cricket, racking up hundreds for fun in the Vijay Hazare Trophy for Maharashtra. Whether he's ready for the next level or not remains to be seen, but it's clear that he has outgrown the domestic level.

Shikhar Dhawan's running a race he's bound to lose at some point; the only question is whether he'll lose it before the 2023 World Cup. His style of play is unfortunately outdated right now, and he has not looked comfortable against both spin and pace. The left-hander has tried to adapt, but it hasn't quite happened so far. And time isn't on Dhawan's side.

It won't come as a surprise if Shikhar Dhawan has played his last game in international cricket. But the Indian team management is known to stick by their veteran players through thick and thin, and there's still a chance that he might be handed a few more opportunities.

Will Gabbar go gentle into that good night? Or will he find it in himself to stay alive long enough to raise his level in an ICC event once again, this time at home?

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Edited by Sai Krishna
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