Shikhar Dhawan's woes: Living on the brink of uncertainty
Watch it as it swoops towards you. Don’t just see it; observe it. Lift your back, shuffle your feet, adjust your arms and swing your wrists in a calculated arc. Did you miss it? No problem. Focus on the next one. Concentrate on the next three minutes. Watch it again as it flies down towards you.
Shikhar Dhawan isn’t one of those prodigal openers that you’d find in abundance in cricketing countries like India. This lad knows his game. He knows cricket well enough to have his own technique – yes, not rock-solid, but effective, nonetheless.
A massive 187 on Test debut – incidentally, the fastest hundred by a debutant – that too, against Australia, gives an idea of this youngster’s caliber. It is never all about talent; determination, patience, perseverance and fortune do make the difference between grabbing an opportunity and losing one.
The rise and the fall
Dhawan did have his chances two years ago. As an aggressive front-foot player replacing a veteran in the same mould, the pressure on him had been immense. Wilting under pressure is not astonishing for the very best in the business, let alone the new kid on the block. But Dhawan didn’t, and this accounted for the quality and merit of the innings that he put on display that day.
Success in the longest format of the game almost always guarantees one of success in ODIs. With an average of 43.59 after 50 innings, Dhawan’s case doesn’t seem too different either. But then, life’s not always rosy and rough patches are bound to emerge. The problem is that Dhawan’s has surfaced right before a World Cup.
For some like Chesteshwar Pujara, it’s more of a psychological block than a technical glitch. For others, the sciences need to be brushed up. Modern day cricket leaves scanty time for adapting. The demands of One Day Internationals are quite unlike those of Tests, yet the technical basics do remain the same.
The prototype of dismissals
There has been a pattern to Dhawan’s dismissals Down Under. He’s been dismissed thrice in the mid-twenties in his last three Test matches, which, apart from a solitary 81 in the second innings of the second match, have been pretty unyielding.
What this means is that the southpaw has been lacking patience – leaving balls, knowing where your off-stump is, playing along the line. It’s agonizing to watch international cricketers forget about the basics and scoop out unnecessary shots from awkward positions.
The bounce, fortunately, is somewhat predictable in Australia. Pace and movement, however, have been the chief undoing for him on this tour. Mitchell Starc refused to allow him to settle in the second ODI of the series before James Anderson compounded his problems by having him edge to the ‘keeper at Brisbane.
The ceaselesss pressure of performing
With Rohit Sharma consolidating his place in the side with a responsible century at Melbourne in addition to November’s double ton and Ajinkya Rahane claiming his stakes at the vacant opener’s slot with a string of decent performances, the pressure continues to mount on Shikhar Dhawan.
If Tests are left unaccounted for, Dhawan’s recent ODI form doesn’t paint a bad picture though. His last 3 scores have been 91, 79 and 113 in that order against Angelo Mathews’s Sri Lanka. No wonder Dhoni would like to persist with him until he strikes form. After all, all that it would take the opener to strike form is merely a couple of overboundaries in an over.
As they say, for the very best, form is only around the corner.
The way out
The math is simple. Leave as many balls as you wish in the first five overs, play out the mandatory powerplay. Once the white sphere ceases doing its bit, take your chances, get on the front foot and drive it to the fence.
Dhawan knows how to value his wicket. If he didn’t, he wouldn’t have notched up a 187 on debut. It’s just the first six overs that seem to be troubling him. If he manages to survive that somehow, like he did against Sri Lanka, he is bound to catch up on the big scores. There’s simply no point in dropping him. That’d only result in shredding his confidence to bits.
As Aakash Chopra profoundly describes Dhawan’s problem against short-pitched stuff in this November 2014 piece, it may be worth mentioning that Rohit – Dhawan’s partner at the top of the order – is currently among the finest handlers of the short ball. The pressure of performing, thus, is only amplified.
No better way than hitting the nets and practicing with local bowlers. The job’s cut out: Watch it as it swoops towards you. Don’t just see it; observe it. Lift your back, shuffle your feet, adjust your arms and swing your wrists in a calculated arc.